By Kenneth Matimaire
PENHALONGA – “I heard gunshots a few hours after he had left. We normally hear them, but this time they were multiple and too persistent for comfort,” Violet Munorwei (23) recalls an incident that occurred in 2016.
Munorwei remembers bolting out of the house and running to a nearby cliff base from where the gunshots had come from.
To her horror, she found her husband, Tafadzwa Lewani lying in a pool of blood. Her mind raced wildly as she groped at the lifeless body.
It took eternity for her to come to terms with the reality that her husband was dead after being shot by security personnel manning a rich gold field claim owned by a private mining company called Redwing Mine – a subsidiary of Metallon Gold Zimbabwe.
His death sparked an outcry among the community which led to the shooting of David Madzikatire who protested against the company.
For years, Lewani and hundreds of other artisanal miners, otherwise once called gold panners until political powers decided to sanitise the name, had been illegally mining gold at Redwing and other virgin claims.
Occasionally the rightful owners of the claims have, however, heavy-handedly tried to drive the artisanal miners away and tragic results of such attempts are now becoming commonplace.
Philip Dowera was also shot in 2013 by security guards from another nearby mining concern, DTZ-OZGEO, for trespassing into their gold fields.
Both Redwing and DTZ have since folded.
The gruesome incidents highlight the rough life of artisanal miners, who are politically recognised but have no rights to any mining claims.
The delay of the passing into law of the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill which seeks to formalise artisanal mining has fuelled confusion into the sector.
On one hand the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) urges artisanal miners to sell their gold to Fidelity Printers and Refineries on a no questions asked basis, yet on the other, police continue to criminalise their activities.
Therefore, the State’s double faced approach is proving to be a disaster.
A spate of fatal gold wars among machete wielding artisanal miners and at times against law enforcement agents have become the order of the day in gold rich areas, mainly in Midlands Province.
Zimbabwe Republic Police is on record confirming and condemning the rise of fatal gold wars in the Midlands.
Similar occurrences have surfaced in Chimanimani’s Taka Forest where casualties have become a permanent feature.
“The causes of the deaths are many. Some are killed by police officers or fall into pits and die during raids. Others die when mining shafts collapse or during violent conflicts among syndicates.
“Not less five panners get injured every month and in terms of deaths they are more than 10 per year here in Chimanimani alone,” artisanal miner Kudzai Pfumo of Biriri village in Chimanimani.
Pfumo lamented that most of the injuries and deaths go unreported as “we are afraid to get arrested due to the nature of our job.”
Hence, there are no official statistics of injuries or deaths that have been gathered.
Most artisanal miners fail to register due to a bureaucratic, costly and time consuming registration process.
“It requires technical expertise, which most of the miners do not have. They have to also raise pegging, prospecting and licensing fees as well as carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment. Most artisanal miners cannot afford the costs attached to the process,” said Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) director Farai Maguwu.
The Zimbabwe Artisan and Small Scale for Sustainable Mining Council (ZASMC) also advised government to commit towards the establishment of a clear “policy and legal framework” for the sector.