Mining nuggets of development wisdom from an Artisanal and Small-Scale Miner
Mrs Ncube showing Farayi Mujeni her gold mining operation
According to the Africa Mining Vison (AMV), Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) is an integral part of mining. The sector is critical for optimal exploitation of mineral resources because some deposits are not economically viable for large scale mining. Nuggets of development wisdom that can be mined from Mrs Ncube, a determined small-scale miner from Bubi district helps to explain why ASM sector is viewed positively by AMV. Mrs Ncube’s lived realities shows that the ASM sector is the silver lining that Zimbabweans must look closely when watching the dark socio-economic cloud engulfing Zimbabwe – scarce employment shortages, acute foreign currency shortages and unsustainable economic contribution from mining. Mrs Ncube’s experiences are an important encouragement to many women seeking to surmount impediments for women participation in ASM. Profiling voices of artisanal and small-scale miners is part of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)’s agenda to document and share experiences amongst peers and to inform policy makers on ASM levers for sustainable development.
Resource nationalism spirit evident in the ASM sector. Government has supported with primary resources, control of land for agriculture and minerals for mining. Of course, our challenge is access to capital and how to grow our entrepreneurial skills. We have a strong starting point though. Resource nationalism enhances community control of natural resources and it seeks to maximise community benefit from mining activities. It is heartening to know that artisanal mining is a reserved sector for indigenous people.
However, the principal mining legislation, the Mines and Minerals Act must be reformed to accommodate artisanal mining, a critical tool for enhancing equitable distribution of mining benefits. Government must not get carried away with announcing mega investment deals in the mining sector, the Constitution, Section 13 (4) requires the State to innovate and deliver optimal benefits to communities from the exploitation of resources in their localities. The softening of indigenisation and economic empowerment framework brings to fore the importance of empowering communities through ASM. Indigenisation, transfer of 51% shareholding to indigenous partners is now limited to diamond and platinum sectors only.
Reversing the trend on migration to South Africa – ASM a factor. Limited employment opportunities have forced Zimbabweans to migrate to South Africa in search for greener pastures. This trend is being reversed, to some extent, by employment and income generation opportunities linked to buoyant artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Mrs Ncube managed to woo her brother– a father of six, from South Africa who was doing landscaping to come and mange her mining business. His brother is paying school fees for his children. He managed to buy a housing stand in Bulawayo from Old mutual and a car as well. Altogether, Mrs Ncube employs fifty-eight people, of which ten trekked back from South Africa. The workers are not salaried. Instead, they have a production sharing agreement with the owner.
Diversification is key. Aware that mining is not a sustainable venture, Mrs Ncube have used proceeds from mining to invest in livestock – cattle, goats and pigs. The goats include a special breed called Kalahari red bought from South Africa. Mrs Ncube is also into chicken production. She constructed a modern fowl run with capacity to produce 1,000 birds at one go. Government must learn from Mrs Ncube’s efforts to diversify. Contributing more than 60% to the country’s export earnings, mining’s huge economic footprint is a deadly disease which can be cured by diversifying the economy.
Water linkages between mining and farming important to explore. Mrs Ncube’s mine is in a farm with very rich soils. Bubi is one of the driest region in Zimbabwe. Opportunities to carry out irrigation farming from dewatering done at Mrs Ncube’s mine. Command agriculture, with a mandate to boost food production through irrigation should explore water linkages between mining and farming. If successfully implemented, water linkages between ASM and farming can catalyse sustainable and integrated economic growth in Bubi rural district. Although ASM and farming are generally viewed in silos and from a conflict relationship, harnessing water linkages has potential to mitigate farmer-miner disputes through value co-creation.
Sponsors, key players behind increased ASM gold production. In as much as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe provides runs a substantially funded loan scheme to help mechanise ASM to boost gold production, individual sponsors are indispensable fanciers too. From 3.9 tonnes of gold out in 2014, ASM gold production ballooned to 19 tonnes between January and September 2018. RBZ credits this phenomenal growth to its funding. According to the 2017 Monetary Policy Statement, Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR) disburse $74 million to 255 individuals or entities. Considering that they are over 500,000 people directly involved in ASM, RBZ’s support is clearly benefiting a few. This vacuum is being filled by sponsors like Mrs Ncube, who work with gold mine owners and workers to provide machinery, inputs, food and protective clothing.
Mrs Ncube uses generators at her mine. This erodes profitability and it worsens ASM’s environment footprint. The rural electrification levy is a consumptive levy geared to promote equitable access to power, a vital socio-economic enabler. Large scale mining companies are huge consumers of electricity which makes them significant contributors to the rural electrification fund. A portion of this fund must be allocated to support access to sustainable and cheaper power for ASMers to boost their productivity.