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Towards a formalised Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sector in Zimbabwe: What to consider and why?

By Joshua Machinga-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association


Transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development is what is envisioned by the African Mining Vision. Formalisation is also given great prominence and the Vision clearly lays out the aspect of a  mining sector that harnesses the potential of artisanal and small-scale mining to stimulate local/national entrepreneurship, improve livelihoods and advance integrated rural social and economic development. This is through providing a systematic governance framework which recognises the strategic value of ASM as a legitimate actor within the mining sector[1].The non-recognition of ASM activities has led to the criminalisation of their operations despite verbal pronouncements being made on decriminalising their operations, but this has not been translated into law. The ASM sector has for long been characterised by rampant criminality (smuggling of gold), violence (gangsterism), environmental degradation, largely informal with low levels of safety measures, health care or environmental protection, lack of technical skills, lack of adequate equipment, and machinery and lack of business acumen among others. No doubt, these issues need to be addressed. With the government formally pronouncing its intention to formalize the ASM sector, the pronouncement is primed on the realization that this sector is important to the country’s economy. According to the 2020 Monetary Policy Statement, in 2019, the artisanal and small-scale miners contributed 17,478 tonnes (compared to 10,181 for primary producers), which is about 60% of the total gold deliverables of 27.66 tonnes recorded with the Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR)[2].

Considering that the process of formalisation is multifaceted, safety, health, and environment (SHE) issues are some of the critical components that should be implemented and enforced (and should be customised to suit the local context). While ASM has the potential to contribute to more sustainable livelihood strategies, poor working conditions, accidents, and disease can reduce worker productivity[3]. More often than not, ASM work often takes place in isolated, bush areas where access to health care, basic sanitation or other social services are not easily accessible, safety and health issues become very critical. Noting the gap and how urgency safety and health issues are in the ASM sector, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) has partnered with the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society to offer the Basic Mining First Aid training to miners to help them respond to mining-related emergencies in any accident situations. The training was aimed at sensitizing and capacitating miners on the need to protect workers from the risk of injury and ensuring employees’ health, safety, and welfare at work.

Issues to consider

There are several issues to consider in the formalisation process of ASM. These issues are complementary and reliant upon each other. Among these issues include promoting access to land for ASMers by identifying and demarcating land and zones specifically for ASM activities and geological maps which shows areas and their prospective minerals. Decentralisation of licensing is also needed to ensure better and efficient issuance of licenses. Issuance and obtaining a licence can be a long and bureaucratic process that may also be open to corruption and bribery, which may discourage people from obtaining licences. Streamlining the issuance of licenses for easy acquisition, developing efficient and accessible online platforms, and ensuring regulations and categories are in line with local contexts[4] will promote the formalisation of the sector.

Linked to the issue of streaming issuance of licenses is the consideration of registration or licencing models, looking at the issue of bureaucracy that the suggested licencing model in the Mines and Minerals Act Amendment Bill. Flexible licencing models for small scale miners and licencing for artisanal miners plays an integral part in the formalisation of the sector.

Training of artisanal and small-scale miners, which is not limited to safe working practices and more efficient and effective mining techniques is critical to reduce the negative social and environmental impacts of operations and improve working conditions, efficiency, yields, and incomes. Education of miners on the laws and regulations that exists and stress the importance of building good working relationships among mining value chain processes.

There is a need to consider financial inclusion of ASMers and come up with more relaxed loaning facilities for them and improve access to finance for the miners. Lack of a vibrant financial inclusion strategy in Zimbabwe for the mining sector is in a way contributing to illicit financial flows, considering that most of the ASMers own no bank accounts, making it difficult to borrow money to finance mining activities. At the same time the miners need to be supported through the suggested exploration grants.

Institutionalisation of  environmental monitoring for artisanal mining activities; strengthening of capacity and collaboration of institutions and government at both the national and local levels to develop more effective approaches and removal of  overlapping functions is important. This would entail complementary administration and monitoring of ASM activities.

Why formalisation?

Curb criminality in the sector. Informal mining has also seen a record number of cases that involve the use of violence – machete, theft, fights over mining claims. The criminality that is prevalent in the sector is argued to be as a result of the informalised operating environment in the ASM sector. Formalisation brings with its legitimacy issues. The artisanal and small-scale miners are not recognised as formal players regardless of contributing so much to the national fiscus. With formalisation, these players will be recognised for the immense role they are playing. Legal and policy frameworks in Zimbabwe do not provide a specific definition of ASM and as such, in practical practise suggests a rather loose interpretation. Once there is recognition of the miners at law, compliance issues are going to be addressed. It has been realised that in the ASM sector there is a high disregard for SHE regulations and other related laws by the miners, with formalisation, compliance will be ensured.

The formalisation of the operations of the miners will promote rehabilitation of the environment and adoption of safety and health standards provided for in environmental laws. This would entail the capacity building of miners on basic mining knowledge, safety, and health for sustainable and responsible mining operations; putting in place structures that are operational and assist miners – accessibility to information among others.

Formalisation will also improve the avenue of the miners to access financial assistance from government to boost production. On marketing, formalisation will reduce the trade of gold on the black market, smuggling, and Illicit Financial Flows. The responsible development of gold resources both through large-scale mining (LSM) and artisanal mining, especially when coupled with sound governance, has the potential to deliver broad social and economic benefits to individuals, communities, and countries.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for host governments to consider how best to ensure the optimum model to develop frameworks to support sustained social and economic development for the local community and nation at large.

[1] https://ecdpm.org/great-insights/rising-voices-africa/mobilising-empowering-local-miners-africa/

[2] https://www.rbz.co.zw/documents/mps/Monetary-Policy-Statement-17-February-2020.pdf


[4] https://www.extractiveshub.org/topic/view/id/1/chapterId/420

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