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Mindset Shift amongst ASMers Critical for Behavioural Change Towards Safe, Responsible and Sustainable Mining Practices and Operations


Compiled by Joshua Machinga and Paul Matshona – Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)

More often, artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMers) are labelled irresponsible, criminal and brutal players in the mining value chain and are historically subjected to harsh and sometimes negative ‘labelling’. Such labelling has at times dealt a double blow to progressive mindset shift among ASMers. Some of the individuals have taken advantage of the criticism levelled against the ASMers for their selfish gain thus reversing efforts by the miners themselves and likeminded organisations like the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), who have been advocating for the formalisation of the sector. This means certain practices and ways of doing things in the ASM sector are ingrained in the mind of ASMers. A mind shift approach and model may be required on safety, health, sustainable and responsible mining in the ASM sector.

This has seen the not yet formal, but critical players in the economy, facing heavy handedness in their operations. Regulatory authorities seem to sometimes forget the sector’s contribution towards national production levels of the yellow metal. For the past three years ASMers have been outweighing the large scale and primary producers in their gold delivery to Fidelity Printers and Refiners[1]. It seems regulators are not worried about the goose welfare; all they are concerned with is the egg. The harsh criticism and treatment of the ASM sector players calls for the urgent regularisation and formalisation of ASM sector operations.

The mindset shift is thus going to be explained using Kurt Lewin change model[2]. To begin any successful change process, you must first start by understanding why the change must take place. The Kurt Lewin’s model has three stages of unfreeze, change (transition) and freeze (refreeze). The implementation of change involves the current state of a situation, in this case miners, must be transformed into a desired state. The Kurt Lewin change model is a prototypical that postulates that the process of change entails creating a perception that change is needed, then moving towards the new desired level of behaviour and finally solidifying that new behaviour as the norm. The unfreezing stage is the first stage of transition and one of the most critical stages in the entire process of change management. It involves improving the readiness as well as the willingness of people to change by fostering a realization for moving from the existing comfort zone to a transformed situation. It involves making people aware of the need for change and improving their motivation for accepting the new ways of working for better results.

In an effort to apply the mind shift approach and behaviour change amongst ASMers, especially in the gold sector the ZELA ASM team engaged a number of miners and to raise awareness on the fundamental and technical aspects of mining and processing as well as geology and mine safety. ASMers also received training on Basic Mining First Aid by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society[3]. ZELA’s work is intricately linked to helping poor communities to assert and claim their environmental, economic, social and cultural rights within the natural resources and environmental sector. This naturally entails promoting behaviour changes, engendering change of attitude and practices. Therefore, in promoting mind shift amongst ASMers several signature training initiatives and support services have been provided by ZELA as highlighted below;

Training on Contract negotiation

Miners underwent training on mining contracts and contract monitoring and review. The emphasis was on ensuring that miners are aware of legal implications of mining agreements and contracts with other miners, government and other service providers by focussing on what a contract is and what it entails, including contract monitoring along the supply chain. Some of the key aspects discussed included compliance with the terms and conditions of the contract and applicable mining laws and regulations; adhering to the project schedule  and reporting on progress towards the expected results and outcomes; identifying and resolving potential problems and providing constructive, and timely feedback. The miners were also trained on the tributary agreements in cases where they do not have mining claims registered in their names. Such training is key in promoting behaviour change of ASMers from operating outside the law and to ensure protection of their rights by going into written agreements with service providers.

Training on Responsible Sourcing Standards

Responsible sourcing, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance[4] becomes imperative for the safe, environmentally friendly and sustainable sector benchmarked on transformational mindset shift amongst ASMers. Responsible sourcing[5]  is a critical function in which, participating actors’ government, investors (business), miners and the communities are equally accountable for the ethicality and sustainability of the value chain processes. The practice (responsible sourcing) will go a long way in justifying and assisting the overdue calls for the ASM sector to be formalised and legally recognised. It guards against the marginalisation of workers of the informal sector (working on the formalisation of ASM). This ensures that artisanal mining communities can benefit from trade in high-risk, conflict-affected areas and to support their development, in line with section 13(4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Such trainings were (are) meant to inculcate responsible sourcing and responsible gold sourcing practices amongst ASMers, a direct opposite of obtaining situation in the ASM sector.

Training on the Basic Mining First Aid by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society

The miners have enrolled for professional courses in first aid training services[6]. The capacitation comes in handy considering the operating environment for the ASMers, their lives are in danger. There have been several cases of workplace injuries among the ASMers, mainly due to human error. To reduce these fatalities, the miners were trained on safety to equip them with emergency or disaster response know how. Through, the basic first aid assistance, the knowledge equips the miners with the right tools to save lives in situations where rescue and casualty management by the certified players is lacking. This will be integrated as part of mine safety and the Safety Health and Environment (SHE) culture.

The change (transition) is the stage of actual implementation of change. It involves the acceptance of the new ways of doing things. This is the stage in which the people are unfrozen, and the actual change is implemented. During this stage, careful planning, effective communication and encouraging the involvement of individuals for endorsing the change is necessary. It is believed that this stage of transition is not that easy due to the uncertainties or people are fearful of the consequences of adopting a change process. The miners have since engaged in the following:

Enrolling with the Zimbabwe School of Mines

Figure 1 Members of the Mthandazo Women in Mining Association with their certificates.

Women in mining shown in Fig 1   enrolled to study Online Course-Certificate in Principles of Mining, the course covered 5 modules namely Mine value chain and planning; Mineral Exploration; Mining Methods; Sustainable Mining Practice and Economic Valuation of Mineral Projects. These women (for example from Mthandazo Women Miners Association) were driven by the need to increase their knowledge on mineral value chain processes. This is in sync with one of the Africa Mining Vision pillars that envisages, a mining sector that harness the potential of artisanal and small-scale mining to stimulate local/national entrepreneurship, improve livelihoods and advance integrated rural social and economic development[7]. The potential of the sector can only be taped into if the understanding and appreciation of the sector dynamics are enhanced. This can be enhanced through trainings which fosters mindset shift in terms of mining, processing and even selling in the market. No way other than enrolling for professional courses with accredited institutions, like the Zimbabwe School of Mines[8]. The emphasis is on professionalising their operations.

Practising the 5 Point Safety System.

The mine owners have also encouraged their mine managers to implement and follow the five-point safety system. This safety talks in the morning before the workers get to do their work helps inculcate the importance of safety at workplaces. The 5-point safety system includes safety huddles and meetings with emphasis on indoctrination of employees, training and qualifications; planned inspections – emergency procedures and joint health and safety committees; job observations – critical tasks procedures and hazards alerts; incident managing – disciplinary actions and incident reporting; and risk assessment – safety rewards[9]. ASMers are encouraged to be each other’s keeper, observe the working environment, welfare and safety to avoid workplace injuries. Thus, emphasizing on safety as one of the avenues through which behavioural change can be attested.

Procuring and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Miners have understood the importance of having PPE for workers and mine staff. The miner owners have made it mandatory that no worker will be allowed to work at a mine site without proper PPE. These measures are meant to reduce the incidence of workplace injuries and fatalities.

The freeze (refreezing) stage involves moving from the stage of transition (change) to a much more stable state of equilibrium. This involves miners accepting or internalizing the new ways of working or change, accept it as a part of their life and establish new relationships. This can be either strengthened and or reinforced through such initiatives like incentivising workers, putting in place supporting policies or structures for transformed ways of working.

The miners are currently adopting to safety measurements to curb mine incidents in communities. The miners are now conducting safety talks on a daily basis to cultivate safety motion before the start of a shift. To address issues to do with ground stability, a number of miners are now implementing ground control elements such as timber props and the shafts are timbered. The miners now implement ground support as mining progresses, which help them address stability issues as they emerge. Considering mine flooding and inundation, especially in this rain season, the miners have managed to secure pumping systems to ensure that water may be pumped out of the mine, balancing production and safety.

The journey has not been rosy but with the determination of organisations such as ZELA, these notable positives have been realised.


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

[2] https://www.managementstudyguide.com/kurt-lewins-change-management-model.htm

[3] https://redcrosszim.org.zw/cause/first-aid-and-nurse-aid-training-services/

[4] The OECD Due Diligence Guidance provides detailed recommendations to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral purchasing decisions and practices. This Guidance is for use by any company potentially sourcing minerals or metals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas. The OECD Guidance is global in scope and applies to all mineral supply chains.

[5] https://medium.com/@KodiakRating/responsible-sourcing-supply-chain-sustainability-whos-responsibility-is-it-really-23926767b436

[6] https://redcrosszim.org.zw/cause/first-aid-and-nurse-aid-training-services/

[7] http://www.africaminingvision.org/amv_resources/AMV/Africa_Mining_Vision_English.pdf

[8] https://www.zsm.ac.zw/zsmsite/index.php

[9] https://www.redpathmining.com/profile/safety-and-training/

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