Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
AN environmental catastrophe is rapidly engulfing Insukamini Growth Point in Lower Gweru after hundreds of artisanal gold miners descended on the business centre looking for the precious mineral.
Insukamini, 26km west of Gweru along the Gweru-Lower Gweru Road, is the growth point for Vungu Rural District.
Like other growth points around the country, Insukamini was meant to be the node of development in that district.
The intention is to provide the various goods and services that are needed by people in the surrounding areas so that they do not have to travel long distances to the established cities and towns to get these services.
The ultimate goal is that the growth point should develop into a town.
But as of yesterday random open cast mining by scores of syndicates, destruction of fields belonging to local farmers, pollution of Insukamini Dam and invasion of people’s properties such as houses and residential and business stands by artisanal miners brought in by syndicates have accelerated environmental degradation at the growth point.
The artisanal miners are digging at people’s stands, yards and using any available bushes or openings as toilets anywhere in and around the growth point.
While artisanal mining activities form an important part of the socio-economic fabric and are an indispensable component of the country’s economy, their adverse impact on the environment often goes unchecked.
Artisanal mining activities in Zimbabwe, if properly carried out, can play a significant role in uplifting the economy of the country by earning it the much-needed foreign currency.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has not taken action, raising suspicion of the involvement of very powerful well-connected individuals in the unfolding environmental crisis at the growth point, home to 2 000 people.
It is now a huge artisanal mining field with open pits and dumps all over. The open pits left by artisanal miners pose a health hazard to locals as an unrecorded number of people have been injured after falling into these pits. Livestock has also not been spared.
This is in violation of Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which states that every Zimbabwean has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.
Last week, police arrested more than 50 artisanal miners during a gold rush at Insukamuni impounding four vehicles in the process.
Unfortunately for residents at the growth point, they will be in fear of their lives and that of their property since the cat and mouse game between the miners and authorities continues to take place.
Residents said hundreds of illegal miners descended on the growth point leaving a trail of destruction as they dug for gold in the residential area.
National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the arrest of the miners, but could not give more details.
The impounded vehicles included an unregistered blue 2 tonne truck driven by Moses Ndlovu of 29 Kopje Road, Gweru, another unregistered white truck driven by Jason Gandazi (31) of Athlone Gweru and a white Isuzu KB pick up truck registration ACU 6768 driven by Muja Mbedzi (38) of Gweru.
Shortly after the raid on Friday, the illegal miners who managed to escape were already regrouping.
“The miners are digging everywhere and anywhere they think there is gold ore.
The artisanal miners have been digging at people’s stands, yards and using any available bushes or openings as toilets anywhere in and around the growth point. The gold deposits are right in the residential area and we now fear for our houses,” said Mrs Agnes Mabika.
Another resident, Mr Amos Chikutu said: “There were hundreds of them digging everywhere 24/7 and it has been a very difficult time for us as residents. They don’t care about digging into our yard and the land degradation is just massive.”
Mr Chikutu said the artisanal gold mining activities have also left a trail of destruction in smallholders’ fields and were threatening Insukamini Dam which is a few meters from the growth point.
“We fear that Insukamini Dam’s water will be contaminated with mercury from artisanal mining activities. There is huge siltation that has greatly affected the riverine and aquatic ecosystems. Artisanal miners have also been wantonly cutting trees, to obtain poles for makeshift camping shacks,” he said.
Vungu RDC chief executive officer Mr Alex Magura confirmed the presence of artisanal miners at the growth point.
He said they had called in the police to assist because as the RDC, they had failed to chase them away.
“The panners are digging just inside the boundary of the growth point close to some houses. Council has liaised with ZRP on the problem. Armed police were deployed to chase away the panners but they keep on coming back once the police withdraw.
The problem requires a permanent security presence to scare away the panners. It is, however, not possible for the police to be permanently on the ground. We will continue to liaise with the police to find a lasting solution to the problem,” said Mr Magura.
Cde Omega Sibanda, Member of Parliament for Vungu Constituency condemned the actions of the artisanal miners.
“I heard that artisanal gold miners have invaded Insukamini Growth Point.
This issue must be addressed as soon as possible. Mining activities should also be done properly. The artisanal miners destroyed infrastructure at Mambanjeni irrigation and now they are moving into the people’s property at the growth point,” he said.
Cde Sibanda said there is a need to educate artisanal gold miners on the need to implement planned mining at legal mining claims.
“These people must be taught that where there is a settlement, gold panning should not be done. It’s wrong, it’s criminal what they are doing. The Ministry of Mines must give them direction; I condemn this act because it’s not right.
People invested a lot of money in constructing houses and shops, and the council also planned for this growth point.
So what these panners are doing is illegal and I condemn it outrightly,” he said.
Midlands Provincial Mining Directors Engineer Tariro Ndlovu said they are visiting the growth point today on a fact finding mission.
“We had a number of dispute visits we are working on from Insukamini Growth Point. We are visiting Insukamini tomorrow morning with the CID Minerals Flora and Fauna Unit.
As a ministry we always have miner to miner disputes, farmer to miner disputes, community to miner disputes so we carry out surveys to determine encroachments,” he said.
Eng Ndlovu said he wouldn’t know until they do a survey and take co-ordinates and plot the growth point and see if there are any claims in the vicinity or incorporating the growth point.
EMA Midlands provincial manager Mr Benson Bhasera said they were going on the ground to see the extent of the damage to the environment.