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Formalization of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector is the way to go

By Collins Shava

This essay is about how the artisanal and small-scale mining sector should be rearranged into a sector that can sustainably support livelihoods and generate revenue in the country. In Zimbabwe the sector employs an estimated five hundred thousand directly and about two million people indirectly (Gutu, 2017). The role of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) towards gold production and alleviating poverty in the country cannot be unnoticed. However, despite its relevance the sector remains at the margins of mineral resources governance in the country.

In Zimbabwe, the reason for such a huge number of artisanal and small-scale miners is due to a myriad of challenges mainly related to the declining economy. No doubt, the sector has managed to provide an alternative source of income particularly for the poor and unemployed. With all the good contributions that the sector produces, it remains in the periphery of legal, policy frameworks in Zimbabwe and the region, Africa at large. The majority of miners operate informally and are not registered (Masiya et al., 2012).

The Government of Zimbabwe has interrelated with the ASM sector  in a number of ways over these 30 years, from ignoring the growing sector during the 1980s to becoming a leader in engaging the sector during the 1990s (via pro-poverty interventions such as legalizing small-scale gold panning and stabilizing gold prices) (Pact, 2015). Kanyenze, Kondo, Chitambara, & Martens (2011) affirm that the government started promoting the establishment of small-scale mining cooperatives in the late 1980s. The source asserts that by the early 1990s the number of artisanal miners had gone up to about 600 000 (Kanyenze et al., 2011 p.167). The government stepped in to respond, providing legal space for these activities. In 2000s, the relationship changed into a cat and mouse game between the government regulating authorities and the miners. Various operations to end “chikorokoza” happened in many parts of the country. This explains how policies to regulate the sector have been inconsistent.

The nature in which artisanal-small-scale mining is being practiced in Zimbabwe is not sustainable and has created challenges. As in other countries, artisanal and small-scale mining operations cause damage to the environment and socio-cultural fiber of communities. This is also common in Zimbabwe where the sector due its informality and illegal status has been responsible for environmental degradation, for the upsurge in the crime rates among other social ills. For this and other reasons, many interest groups in the region have called for the banning of the sector (Lungu, 2007).  Nevertheless, many governments in Africa see it as a potential sector that can contribute towards sustainable development and improved livelihoods. For this reason, African governments between 2002 and 2009 came up with ideas and policy direction to address the issues of artisanal and small-scale mining. These include the Yaonde initiative of 2002 and the Africa Mining Vision of 2009.

The sector has great potential of supporting livelihoods especially in our own context, where many people do not have formal jobs. I grew up in Kwekwe, a city labelled as the ‘city of gold’ in Zimbabwe. The term ‘mukorokoza’ is identified with artisanal miners. They are a common site in the small town, usually walk dressed in dust and dirt filled clothes. They are not ashamed of walking like that across town, as everyone understands their hustle. When artisanal miners score a huge sale, it’s usually news across the town that so and so got a certain gram or kilograms of gold. Such news is celebrated by pomp and fanfare.

 It must be noted that, the mining of gold in the town has created oligarchs and politically aligned chefs who are in charge of mining affairs. On the worst side, this has somewhat contributed to the creation of violent machete wielding vigilante groups who ran amok between 2018 and 2019. Although clashes have subsided, the citizens are still gripped with fear at the mention of these ‘machete’ gangs who are nowhere closer to the artisanal miners trying to eke a living. Despite the shortcomings, artisanal and small-scale mining operations have created employment for many young people in the city and country at large. In an organized environment, the government can easily manage the negative vices of the sector.

As I write this piece a small-scale miner in Tanzania became an overnight millionaire after selling two rough Tanzanite stones, possibly the biggest ever found in the country. This can only be possible due to an enabling policy environment that supports artisanal and small-scale mining sector. Zimbabwe has an opportunity of maximizing returns from the artisanal and small-scale mining operations. The first is to recognize the sector and initiate policy reforms deliberately aimed at supporting the players in the sector. Outdated mineral governance laws, lack of accountability and transparency, weak-under resourced regulatory establishments, policy inconsistency paint the governance of Zimbabwe’s mineral resources in a gloomy picture. Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Africa Mining Vision whose fourth aspiration speaks of the formalization of artisanal and small-scale miners. The Zimbabwe Mines and Minerals Act of 1961 does not recognize artisanal mining, it actually criminalizes the sector (Dhliwayo, 2016). The non-recognition of artisanal mining is catastrophic despite the important role that they play in economic development. It is in the best interest of the country to leverage on the provisions of the Africa Mining Vision to organize the governance of the mineral sector and formalize ASM.

Secondly, due to the informal nature of the sector it has fuelled socio-economic problems. There is conflict, violence in areas where artisanal and small-scale mining is happening. Environmental degradation and deforestation are the major negative effects of artisanal mining. Other issues include the dumping of waste and toxic substances such as mercury. The majority of these artisanal and small-scale miners are operating outside the confines of the legal and policy framework of Zimbabwe, which means their operations are unknown. It is in the best interest of the country to ensure that these players are registered in a secure system to allow for tracking of their operations. This will assist the authorities to regulate the sector with ease. The government may also leverage this by initiating trainings and environmental awareness to the players.

The ASM sector has created losers and winners; it has become entangled in elite accumulation. The sector has created groups of individuals, political oligarchs that control the mining operations and the marketing of minerals. For this reason, the government needs to invest in the formalization of artisanal and small-scale miners. This will improve accountability and transparency on the activities of the sector. Formalization will also be able to address the negative effects of the sector such as illicit financial flows and elite accumulation. The government needs to improve the capacity, strength, and collaboration of institutions and government departments. The principal ministry, the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development must be able to coordinate related institutions that have an interest in mining issues, Environmental Management Agency, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Fidelity printers, Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, the police and the rural district councils. This will allow these institutions to have consistent policy frameworks, better monitoring, enforcement, and may play an effective role in providing education among citizens on laws and regulations. There is need to increase capacity of all government agencies to better monitor ASM activities. There is also need to educate miners on the laws and regulations that exist and build good working relationships between enforcement agencies, miners, and ASM communities.

In conclusion, the exclusion of artisanal and small-scale miners from mainstream policy frameworks in Zimbabwe leaves the constituency at the margins of mineral resources governance. The sector has the potential to support livelihoods and can equally contribute to the national pot. It is in the best interest of the country to rewrite the wrongs by adopting regionally recommended provisions for the sector and referring to the best practices from other countries.

Email: collinsshava@gmail.com

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