The Sunday Mail
Deep in a remote and forested area in Silobela, Midlands province, a revolution is quietly taking place in the small-scale gold mining sector.
The Silobela Community Development Trust-run Peace Mine has made history by becoming the country’s first ever functional gold service centre.
A gold service centre is an establishment where all the functions related to gold mining – from extracting to processing and sales – will be co-ordinated from.
A typical gold service centre would be comprised of a clinic, offices of the Government’s official gold-buying firm Fidelity and firms that sell or hire mining equipment.
The centres will offer such services as gold milling, collection points and will also assist with environmental impact assessments.
Geologists, engineers and metallurgists will also be stationed at such centres.
Millers and officials from the School of Mines will also set up bases at the centres to teach miners on health and safety issues.
Downstream beneficiaries such as hotels and grocery shops among others will also benefit from such a centre.
A Government initiative, gold service centres are aimed at boosting gold production and to curb leakages.
They are also meant to formalise the artisanal miners and to promote self-reliance and beneficiation in the small-scale gold mining sector.
Government, through the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, had projected that the first gold service centre was to be opened in Zhombe, again in the Midlands area, in March this year. A lack of funding resulted in the anticipated pilot project in Zhombe suffering a stillbirth.
Small-scale miners often faces such challenges as lack of basic infrastructure, equipment, lack of geological information, unskilled labour, scarce financial support and lack of collateral
Not deterred by the liquidity crunch bedevilling the country, the determined Silobela community decided to lead by example, resulting in the birth of the country’s first gold service centre.
Although the Silobela centre lacks most of the basic features of a proper gold service centre, this community initiative must be applauded since it is a step in the right direction.
The project is a shining example of how such centres can address most of the challenges that are faced by small-scale miners.
Small-scale miners face such challenges as a lack of credit facilities to purchase equipment and other related expenses.
Before the setting up of the centre, locals engaged in illegal gold panning activities. They conducted their business in a dangerous environment in which they were often arrested. Gold buyers often took advantage of the panners and offered low prices.
A major transformation has happened and as part of the services offered by the newly-established centre, the miners are now selling their gold on sight. The gold is sold directly to Fidelity, therefore, avoiding leakages.
Mr Arthur Mzingeli Nkiwane, the chairman of the Silobela Community Development Trust, chronicled the journey that the community took to establish the centre.
“This area has abundant gold deposits but the community was not benefiting. As a community, we came together and formed a trust. We organised ourselves into syndicates and the syndicates takes turns to mine,” said Mr Nkiwane.
As a result of the formalisation of artisanal activities, Peace Mine has become a success story.
With two connecting shafts, the mine is one of the most mechanised small-scale mines in the country. It boasts industrial compressors, drills, water pumps and jack hammers, among others. Syndicates of 20 people took turns to mine.
From the sales, the trust retains 10 percent of the earnings which are used for administrative purposes with the miners sharing among themselves the remainder.
In line with Zim-Asset, the mine has not only empowered locals but has also created employment with 40 people, mostly war veterans, being employed as guards. The guards are drawn from the local community.
According to Mr Nkiwane, some of the trust’s notable achievements include the electrification of the centre at a cost of US$20 000 and the acquisition of a US$75 000 processing plant. Electric compressors were also acquired at a cost of US$16 000.
“We acquired this plant at zero deposit and in three months’ time, we should be able to pay off the debt. On average, we are producing 8kg of gold every month. Once the new plant is operational, we will be able to produce 20kg every month,” added Mr Nkiwane.
The modern processing plant has a crusher, bow mill and a separator and is capable of processing two tonnes of ore.
Mr Henson Douglas Gondwe, the mine manager, is optimistic about the future of the centre.
“Since November last year, we have so far made deliveries amounting to a tonne. By April next year, we should be able to acquire two more processing plants. We will never use stamp mills which were, however, banned,” Mr Gondwe said.
Downstream businesses are also benefitting with traders descending on the centre from Gokwe and Kwekwe. The vendors sell virtually everything – from maize to clothes. Business is booming for local farmers who are selling their produce to the miners.
The miners adhere to a strict safety regime with workers putting on protective clothing. More than 100 miners, mostly youths, will next week be trained in all aspects of mining. The training will be done in conjunction with the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and the Zimbabwe Mining Federation.
Locals say criminal activities have gone down in the area since the centre was established.
“In the past stock theft was rife in Silobela. Locals can now afford to buy their own cattle. As you can see, locals are now able to buy their own cars and are building nice homes,” added Mr Gondwe.
Peace Mine has scooped a number of awards run by the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce and the Zimbabwe Chamber of Small to Medium Enterprises.
Mr Victor Rupende, the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, advised communities to set up centres like the one in Silobela.
“As ZMF, we are working with this community so that the nation fulfils the Zim-Asset goals. We are going to establish eight such centres across the country in the next few years,” Mr Rupende said.
The licensing of artisanal miners is set to bring sanity in the small-scale gold sector and enable Government to mop all the gold currently in the hands of informal and unregistered miners.
According to ZMF, between 70 and 85 percent of the rural population is into mining with 70 percent involved in gold mining while 30 percent is into chromite, tantalite and other semi and precious minerals.
ZMF further states that illegal gold panning provides a livelihood for about 500 000 people and that about two million people depend on mining.
In 2014, Government allocated US$100 million to small-scale miners in the national budget. The Mining Industry Loan Fund was allocated US$460 000 which was earmarked for the acquisition of mining equipment. An Act of Parliament is set to officially formalise the operations of artisanal miners.
According to the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, small scale miners contributed almost half of the nation’s total production between 2012 and 2013.
The African Development Bank reports indicates that gold deliveries from small-scale miners have steadily risen compared to large scale producers.
To avoid gold leakages and to ensure increased gold deliveries, Government established the Gold Compliance and Enforcement Co-ordination Unit. The unit co-ordinates all the compliance and enforcement operations across all gold producing areas in the country.