Illegal gold miners or artisanal miners, better known as Makorokoza, are notorious for chaos in the gold mining sector.
Tales of how the miners, in the dead of the night, stealthily sneak into mine shafts, some as deep as 40 metres, are often talked about especially in areas where illegal gold mining activities are rampant.
Apart from their well-documented buying and drinking sprees, Makorokoza are also known for violent clashes amongst themselves.
Most often, the illegal miners have seen themselves on the wrong side of the law.
The illegal miners have been fingered as the major source of gold that is smuggled out of the country by well-organised syndicates.
However, the Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation has revealed that if a host of sweeping reforms in the gold mining sector by Government take effect, gold panning is headed for a major transformation.
The country, through the relevant mining authorities, will soon formalise the activities of the artisanal miners and also introduce gold service centres.
Under the ambitious programme, the Government will recognise the operations of artisanal miners and then capacitate them with machinery.
Mining syndicates of between 10-20 people have already been registered in pilot projects in Shurugwi and Zhombe with the aim of harnessing gold from both small-scale and artisan miners.
The Midlands province has been selected to be the pilot province since it is blessed with huge gold deposits.
The programme is set to increase gold production and also reduce the illegal sale of the precious mineral.
Presenting the 2014 National Budget in December last year, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa expressed concern over the leakages of mineral revenues.
Gold remains the mainstay of mineral production in the country, accounting for more than 30 percent of the total value produced.
According to statistics obtained from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, last year, gold production stood at 14 065 kilogrammes, down 4, 49 percent from 14 742kg in 2012.
The country’s gold output target for 2013 was 17 000 kilogrammes and analysts attributed the decline to the Government’s clampdown on illegal miners.
Zimbabwe is targeting to become one of the top five gold producing countries in Africa and with reports that about 15 000 people have so far registered for the pilot syndicate programme, hopes are that more than 200 kilogrammes of gold can be realised each month.
The artisanal miners are set to be equipped with safe mining skills as well as knowledge on the need to adhere to laws that govern their activities.
According to the Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation, a gold service centre will be comprised of a clinic and will also house the offices of the Government’s official gold-buying firm, Fidelity.
Firms that sell and hire mining equipment will also be an integral part of the establishment.
Millers and officials from the School of Mines will set up bases at the centres to teach miners on health and safety issues.
Other downstream beneficiaries such as hotels and grocery shops among others will also benefit from the establishment of the centres.
Stakeholders in the gold mining sector have welcomed the idea of introducing gold centres, hailing it as the “best thing that has ever happened” to the sector.
However, Mr Philmon Mubata (49), the director of Big Valley Masters, a medium-scale gold mining company which is located some few kilometres outside Shurugwi town, said while he was excited over the plan, the Government should first nip corruption in the bud.
“Corruption is a cancer that should be done away with. For Zim-Asset to succeed through the mining sector, a number of things should be looked into.
“To me the most critical things that should be addressed are funding and training. We have people who have mining claims yet they do not even know what gold looks like,” Mr Mubata said.
“These people hold the claims for either speculative purposes or hire them out as and when they need money.”
Big Valley Masters has a workforce of 180 full-time workers and Mr Mubata attributed the growth of the mining company to funding.
The company operates on a 24-hour basis and produces, on average, two and a half kilogrammes of gold every month.
“We have a number of people who are holding on to mining claims but are not doing anything since they do not have the means to start mining. These people must partner those with the money and start joint venture investments. We cannot allow people to sit on those claims and complain about the lack of funding,” he said.
Mr Marufu Sithole (36), another Shurugwi-based small-scale gold miner, was adamant that the mining sector would “heal” the country’s economy.
“You don’t need to be an economist to see that the mining sector is set to heal our ailing economy. I was thrilled after receiving for free my gold buying licence. I can now buy gold without fear of getting arrested.
“As a miner, I have been waiting for such a development for a long time,” the youthful miner, whose stamp mill crushes 20 tonnes of gold ore every day, said.
Mr Sithole started off as an artisanal manager before making his mark as a successful small-scale gold miner.
“As a miner and miller, I can now work freely with the artisanal miners.
“If more people are given gold mining claims, it means more people will also come down here for milling. I can see that the days when artisanal miners play cat and mouse games with the police are over,” Mr Sithole said.
Mr Sithole is a shining example of how small-scale miners should conduct their businesses.
From the humble beginnings, he has managed to buy two milling plants at a combined cost of US$50 000. A further US$50 000 was used to buy two elution plants.
An elution plant is a machine that is used to recover gold from cyanide leach.
Of all the gold mining stakeholders, it seems the artisanal miners are set to benefit the most from the new arrangement.
“I am more than happy to become a licensed and legal miner. Illegal mining is dangerous and we were also exploited by gold buyers. The changes herald a new chapter,” said Joel Gabaza, an artisanal miner at a disused mining shaft just outside Kwekwe.
Mr Nicholas Gara, of Nichrut Lodge, which is also located outside Shurugwi, has set an example of how small-scale miners can be at the forefront in terms of economic development through beneficiation and diversification.
From the proceeds realised from gold sales, Mr Gara, one of the most prominent small-scale miners in the Midlands province, channelled more than US$500 000 towards the construction of a modern and spacious lodge, creating employment opportunities in the process.
A service station and food court were also constructed using money realised from the precious metal.
“Although I diversified into the hospitality industry, mining is still my major source of livelihood. Mining will without doubt put the economy on the recovery path,” Mr Gara said.
Despite the fact that the mining sector has the potential to bail the economy out of its current quagmire, the sector is still facing a number of challenges.
According to the stakeholders, major gold mining companies are holding on to several thousand unutilised mining claims.
“It is a known fact that the mining sector is set to steer the economy out of the current challenges. However, we are still faced with a problem where major gold-mining firms are not willing to surrender the idle mining claims they have been holding on to since the colonial era,” said the Zimbabwe Miners Federation.
The ZMF is a body that was set up to protect the interests of the small-scale miners, the mining claim owners and the syndicates.
According to the ZMF, Zimbabwe has an estimated 200 000 small-scale artisanal miners and the programme to regularise their operations will see the country deriving maximum benefits.
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