Eight artisanal miners were rescued last week while 28 died when Cricket and Silver Moon gold mines in Battlefields, 175km from Harare, flooded after heavy rains. More are missing and feared dead with heavy rains continuing to slow down rescue efforts.
Mining companies Zimplats and Rio Zim are assisting in the rescue effort by providing machinery and equipment. Rescuers say they need water pumps with more horsepower to reach the missing miners as the water level keeps rising.
Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL Global Union director for mining, diamonds, gems, ornaments and precious stones says such tragedies are avoidable if key stakeholders prioritize health and safety in artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) operations. In particular, governments must develop policy to formalize relations with ASM and mining companies with operations in their vicinity.
“Promoting the health and safety of ASM is a social responsibility and stakeholders mustn’t turn a blind eye. Therefore, we support initiatives in which mining companies engage with trade unions and communities on safe and sustainable mining such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), which calls for engagement between large scale mining (LSM), ASM and communities in its standard.”
Zed Banda, the general secretary of the National Mineworkers Union of Zimbabwe, an affiliate of IndustriALL, adds:
“Artisanal and small-scale mining is one of the ways in which workers are surviving Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. In a country with limited opportunities, and where unemployment is very high at over 90 per cent, ASM helps the youth put food on the table. We are calling on the government to recognize and support ASM to end the deadly mining conditions under which they toil to eke a living.”
Although ASM use basic tools like picks, shovels, ropes and buckets, they have been producing most of Zimbabwe’s gold. According to Fidelity Printers and Refiners, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, and sole buyer of the precious metal, gold production increased mainly due to ASM. For instance, in 2018 ASM produced 21.7 tonnes compared to mining companies’ 11. 5 tonnes.
However, despite this high production, the laws are skewed against ASM who mine under appalling and dangerous conditions with weak adherence to health and safety standards expected in mining. To improve conditions ASM are asking for inclusion in current discussions on the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill. They argue that policy regulation can improve health and safety and promote sustainable mining.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe says there are 500,000 ASM in the country who support up to three million dependents but operate with neither policy regulation nor government support.
The Alternative Mining Indaba, held annually parallel to the Mining Indaba, calls upon governments to:
“…decriminalize artisanal mining, so that miners can be trained; safety standards maintained, and communities liberated from the operations of criminal gangs. The African Mining Vision also recognizes artisanal and small-scale mining potential to end poverty and recommends that it be linked to development initiatives."