By Kenneth Matimaire
Chimanimani, July 24, 2016 – CHIMANIMANI East’s timber estates have succumbed to gold panning which has reached alarming levels as unemployment sours in the timber rich area.
Over 1 000 unemployed youths in the area between the ages 19 and 35 have turned to gold panning to try and make ends meet.
A recent visit by RadioVOP to Tarka Estate, which is one of the most affected mountainous forests, unearthed a wide range of environmental violations attributed to rampant gold panning.
Most timber plantations have been uprooted while roads are becoming inaccessible with the remaining rivers and streams contaminated and diverted.
Timber plantations provided the biggest form of employment in the district while rivers provided water points for livestock, vegetation and villagers in distinct areas.
However, the environmental set up, which used to support villagers in Chimanimani, is under threat following the 2003 discovery of gold deposits in the area with the vice now rampant as the country’s employment levels sky rocket.
Gold panners interviewed by RadioVOP acknowledge the negative environmental impact they were causing but are quick to say they have no other means to fend for their families.
“If I had other means to sustain my family, I would not be doing this,” said Peter Zike who came all the way from Checheche.
“This is not by choice. I have just married and my wife is expecting a baby anytime soon. I need to look after them and this is the only thing that I can do for now.
“I have been here for the past one and half years but things are getting worse.”
Zike said despite all the effort and hazards associated with the illicit trade, they realise very little $30 in a space of three weeks of toiling.
“We know that we are destroying the environment for such a piece meal but I cannot afford to sit and wait for a job. The government has to give us jobs now,” added Zike.
Several other panners interviewed said they could not afford to abandon the trade despite knowing it was illegal and had negative effects to the environment as well as threatening the livelihoods of locals.
The gold panners also indicated that they have tried to engage the local Member of Parliament Samuel Undenge to help find them alternative means of survival without success.
“We have tried to talk to the MP here but all efforts accounted to nothing,” said Kudzai Pfumo of Biriri.
“There is nothing he can do. He pretends as if he is going to organise something but nothing ever comes up. There have been some projects meant for youth but the challenge is that only Zanu PF youths benefit. So this is why you see many of us here.”
Another panner, one Obedience Breakfast, said government should intervene and rescue them from their misery by way of job creation.
“If government is to offer us any kind of a job, even cleaning toilets, I will not hesitate to quit what I’m doing. The government has to help us; we have nowhere else to turn to,” said Breakfast whose sentiments were echoed by several other panners.
It should be noted that President Robert Mugabe’s government promised to create 2,2 million jobs if voted into power during the 2013 elections but three years have passed without any progressive developments in that respect.
Infact, statistics indicate that the country has been experiencing mass company closure since then with between 10 to 20 companies folding on a monthly basis.
This has been exacerbated by the landmark High Court labour ruling that saw companies retrenching hundreds of thousands of workers with government institutions threatening to lay off more of its workforce.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial manager Kingstone Chitotombe acknowledged that the environmental concerns in Chimanimani have reached alarming levels.
Chitotombe said there was need for multi-stakeholder intervention, further indicating that they have already written to the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to flush out illegal panners that have invaded the timber plantations.
“The level at which the matter is demands a multi-stakeholder intervention, involving forestry commission, timber companies, ourselves and ZRP. We have already alerted the police in writing over the situation in Chimanimani and they acknowledged receipt so we are waiting for them to react accordingly to the issues raised.