Boitumelo Makhurane, Chronicle Reporter
Illegal gold miners in Umguza District are putting the lives of villagers and livestock in danger by using prohibited lethal chemicals such as mercury in search of the precious mineral.
According to scientific studies, mercury is detrimental to human health as exposure can lead to skin disease, infertility and birth defects.
When inhaled, the chemical can also cause lung cancer.
Mercury is used for gold amalgamation in artisanal mining.
The chemicals pose a threat to the health of animals, humans and aquatic life. Gold panning activities are also causing siltation, an accumulation of fine soil that is blamed for diminishing water supplies in the dams that serve the city. Popularly known as “omakorokoza”, the gold panners have ramped up their illegal activity in the city’s catchment areas.
Matabeleland North Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial manager Mrs Chipo Mpofu-Zuze said loss of cattle was rampant in Bubi and Umguza districts where most of the illegal activities are taking place.
“The abandoned sites are characterised by severe land degradation, with huge open pits which are a death trap to human beings and animals. Farmers continue to lose cattle to illegal miners who dig pits resulting in cattle falling into those pits,’’ she said.
Mrs Mpofu-Zuze urged villagers to stop abusing the environment, warning those conducting illegal activities that the law will soon catch up with them.
Villagers in Umguza District have raised concern saying they are losing a large number of their livestock as water sources are already polluted with dangerous chemicals such as mercury.
Mr Thembani Thebe, one of the villagers, said he lost two of his cattle as they were drinking in a pit that illegal miners were operating from.
He said the pit is not fenced around and this will cause more people to lose their cattle.
“I have lost two of my cattle that were drinking from the mining pits. I found them lying there after two days of searching. The pit is not secured. making it more dangerous to our children and livestock,” said Mr Thebe.
He said they reported the issue to EMA.
Last month, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) deployed rangers on a full-time basis at its water catchment areas to safeguard the city’s supply dams from being contaminated by toxic chemicals such as cyanide and mercury, following an upsurge in illegal gold panning activities.
Between January and May, council rangers apprehended 229 panners and handed them over to the police. [email protected]