Illegal mining dungeons of degradation endanger communities

The Chronicle

Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
ILLEGAL miners in gold rich districts of Matabeleland are causing massive land degradation, endangering communities and livestock as they leave areas that they would have been operating in littered with un-reclaimed pits. Some use dangerous chemicals and burn grass, starving livestock of pastures.

Livestock farmers are counting their losses as they are losing animals in pits due to failure to rehabilitate the land. Diseases such as measles in cattle are resulting in fatalities due to the miners’ activities. Almost all the gold districts in Matabeleland region are affected by the operations of the illegal miners who desert an area without rehabilitating the land to move to the next.

Un-reclaimed pit and deserted dwelling at Nugget Mine in Matobo District

The gold panners are also threatening Bulawayo water supplies by operating near the city’s supply dams causing siltation and affecting the flow of water to Bulawayo’s dams. In May last year, Government was told that illegal mining activities at Matopos Research Institute Farm were threatening international research work aimed at improving agriculture in Southern Africa and beyond, through land degradation that has affected studies on crops and caused the death of pedigree breeding livestock.
Chronicle has established that across the region, illegal miners dig pits and also burn the grazing land as they use metal detectors in search for gold.

Farmers said the gold panners are a threat to the development of the national herd at a time the country is aiming to bolster the beef industry. A news crew yesterday visited Nugget Mine in Matobo District where it observed the extensive damage that has been caused by the illegal miners.

The gold panners have dug pits, some now covered by shrubs and grass which makes it easy for animals to fall into. Cattle were seen grazing just near sites where pits have been dug. Scores of gold panners, some who are now working in small scale mines were having lunch. One of the victims of illegal mining activities in the district is Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Edgar Moyo who last year lost 53 cattle after they fell into the pits dug by gold panners.

He said the losses occurred when he moved his cattle to Matopos Research Institute Farm for improved grazing land.

“Normally in a year we usually get 90 to 95 calves but this year the number dropped to 44 calves. This is because last year due to drought we took our livestock to the Matopos Research Institute Farm in the Old Bulawayo area which has some good pastures. But the environment there was extensively damaged by illegal gold panners who dug a lot of pits and some of our cattle fell into them. So, we lost 53 cattle, mostly pregnant cows greatly reducing the number of cattle we have,” he said.

Deputy Minister Moyo said despite the good pastures in areas surrounding Matopos Research Institute they decided to abandon the area in fear of losing more livestock.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union vice president Mr Winston Babbage said he was one of those who had lost livestock affected by measles due to open defecation practiced by gold panners as they do not have proper ablution facilities.

Un-reclaimed pit and deserted dwelling at Nugget Mine in Matobo District

“Firstly, those gold panners conduct a lot of open defecation which is also affecting our animals when they eat human waste in the process of grazing. When cattle eat human waste they can contract diseases such as measles. I lost two of my animals that contracted measles linked to human waste that I attribute to open defecation by gold panners. Unfortunately, I only discovered that the animals had measles when I took them for slaughter. The animals had to be burnt as I could no longer sell them,” said Mr Babbage.

He said there is need for Government’s intervention as some of the gold panners also invade commercial farms. Mr Babbage said Government needs to invest in fodder farming for livestock farmers in Matabeleland region and tractors for bailing of grass as gold panners were also using metal detectors for their extraction activities.

“We are incurring serious losses because when an animal falls into those pits it usually breaks its legs and you will have no option but to slaughter it which is not always favourable,” said Mr Babbage.

Un-reclaimed pit and deserted dwelling at Nugget Mine in Matobo District

He said in areas such as Shangani in Insiza district there is a serious grazing land problem as gold panners burn the veld in search of the precious mineral. National Council of Chiefs vice president Chief Mtshana, who hails from the gold rich Bubi District in Matabeleland North, said he has also observed the environmental degradation caused by the gold panners in the area.

He said livestock which is the mainstay for rural communities in the region is affected by the operations of the gold panners.
“Even as I travel across my area, I’m seeing a lot of pits that are dug by gold panners. There is need for them to be sensitised on the environmental degradation they are causing as animals will end up falling into their pits as they conduct their operations within grazing areas,” said Chief Mtshana.

Matabeleland South Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial manager Mr Decent Ndlovu said gold panners in their extraction activities also use chemicals that are dangerous to livestock.

“A lot of livestock in communities have been affected by the illegal gold panning activities. Some of the animals do not recover after falling into the pits, some of the animals go missing,” said Mr Ndlovu.

Land degradation in Matobo District

Mr Ndlovu said they can only deal with licensed miners who have fixed addresses.

“In Nugget area in Matobo we had to engage the police who deployed officers as part of the multi stakeholder engagements. As EMA there is nothing we can do in terms of dealing with gold panners as this requires security personnel. Other areas that have been affected include Matopo Research Institute Farm,” he said.

Land degradation in Matobo District

Mr Ndlovu said the gold panners’ illegal operations have also become a threat to Bulawayo’s water supplies.

“In the Nyakuni and Ncema their operation is causing siltation to Bulawayo dams. Also, they are affecting the flow of water affecting the availability of water in Bulawayo,” said Mr Ndlovu.

He said Gwanda and Insiza are among the districts that have been affected by illegal gold mining environmental degradation issues.

Article Source: The Chronicle

Enjoyed this post? Share it!