Local NGO pushes for commission of inquiry on the Battlefields mines disaster

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

A local non-governmental organisation  fighting for environmental, social and economic justice has called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the Battlefields mines disaster.

Presenting a preliminary report ‘Gold Capitalism and Disaster Preparedness in Zimbabwe: A Preliminary Critical Report on the Battlefields Mines Disaster’ in the capital last Friday , People and Earth Solidarity Law Network Director  Lenin Chisaira  said following the disaster which  happened last week  when flood waters trapped  at least 70 artisanal miners underground  with so far 24 bodies having  been retrieved while  there were 8 lucky survivors ,there is the need to set up a  Commission of Inquiry to establish  what  led to the tragedy.

“An inclusive, free and open Commission of Inquiry into the Battlefields Disaster is pertinent.

“This commission should analyse property rights restrictions occasioned by large scale mine ownership and under utilisation of gold claims and blocks as well as on what really occurred during the disaster,” said Chisaira.

The organisation which comprises of  environmental justice lawyers, researchers and activists also lamented the Battlefields mine disaster as a ‘clear case of constitutional and human rights violations’.

“The constitution nevertheless provides for the right to life, environmental rights, human dignity and health care.

“Of the latter in a disaster, the constitution states that no person may be refused emergency medical treatment in any health-care institution and all these rights were violated due to the negligence, omissions and or inefficiency of state departments and private capitalists,” attributes the report.

The NGO says it is already keen   to help with litigation   those who were directly affected by   the tragedy.

The People and Earth Solidarity  Law Network  cites  large scale mining entities for exploiting the nature of property rights in Zimbabwe  which leads to artisanal miners to risk their lives in unutilised mining claims.

“Large scale miners, in as much as they provided some assistance upon request, are also to blame as shown by the way they accumulate large mine blocks and fail to utilise most of them yet retain ownership.

“This retention then leads to the labelling and criminalisation of artisanal miners who would inevitably utilise the abandoned mines for their own survival and for example Rio Zim as the alleged owner of Cricket Mine  shoulders  the blame for this tragedy,” states the organisation.

The preliminary report has since been handed  to relevant institutions that include the ministry of mines, ministry of environment, Rio Zim limited, Chamber of Mines, Environmental Management Agency, Civil Protection Unit, parliamentary portfolio committee on mines and energy and the Zimbabwe Miners Federation.

Two weeks ago disaster struck at Battlefields gold mines-Cricket and Jongwe co-operatives  when floods trapped close to 70 miners underground and it took government 72 hours to declare the tragedy a national disaster.

A week after the disaster 24 bodies of the artisanal miners were retrieved while 8 others were miraculously pulled alive and rescue efforts are still underway with chances of survivors fading by the day.