Benefits, concerns of illegal artisanal gold mining in Zim

Illegal artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe has been a significant source of livelihood for many individuals, offering economic benefits to local communities.

AERTISANAL gold mining in Zimbabwe has a long history, and its illegal variant has become a significant socio-economic phenomenon in recent decades.

 The allure of quick profits and the lack of alternative livelihood options drive many individuals to engage in illegal artisanal gold mining, despite the associated risks and negative impacts.

Illegal artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe has been a significant source of livelihood for many individuals, offering economic benefits to local communities.

However, it also poses several environmental and social concerns. This instalment aims to analyse the benefits and concerns of illegal artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe and propose management strategies that consider the economic realities on the ground.

By examining the complex interplay of economic, environmental, and social factors, this paper provides insights into how the negative impacts of illegal artisanal gold mining can be mitigated while maximising its potential benefits.

The following are benefits of illegal artisanal old mining:

Economic benefits

Artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe has been a significant source of livelihood for many individuals, offering several notable benefits to local communities and the broader economy.

The practice of artisanal gold mining, which involves the extraction of gold using simple tools and methods, has been ingrained in the socio-economic fabric of Zimbabwe for decades.

Despite its informal and often illegal nature, artisanal gold mining has contributed to both individual and communal well-being in various ways.

Employment opportunities

First and foremost, artisanal gold mining provides crucial employment opportunities, especially in rural areas where formal job opportunities are limited.

Many individuals, including men, women, and youth, are engaged in artisanal mining activities, thereby supporting their families and local economies.

This form of employment has been particularly vital in mitigating poverty and providing a means of sustenance for those who lack access to formal employment opportunities.

Income generation for local communities

Moreover, artisanal gold mining serves as a source of income generation for local communities.

The proceeds from gold mining activities often flow back into the community through various channels, stimulating local economies and supporting small businesses.

This economic infusion contributes to the overall well-being of the community by providing resources for education, healthcare, and other essential needs.

Contribution to national economy

At the national level, artisanal gold mining plays a role in contributing to the country's economy.

Zimbabwe has a rich reserve of gold, and artisanal mining significantly contributes to the country's gold production. This, in turn, has implications for government revenue through taxes and royalties, as well as for foreign exchange earnings from gold exports.

The economic significance of artisanal gold mining underscores its contribution to the national economy and its potential role in poverty alleviation and economic development.

Entrepreneurship, self-reliance

Furthermore, artisanal gold mining fosters a sense of entrepreneurship and self-reliance among individuals engaged in the practice. It empowers miners to take control of their own economic destinies, driving creativity and innovation in the pursuit of gold extraction.

This spirit of entrepreneurship can have broader positive implications for economic development and can contribute to the resilience of local communities in the face of economic challenges.

The following are concerns of illegal artisanal gold mining:

Environmental concerns

Artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe, while providing economic benefits, is also associated with a myriad of environmental and social concerns that have significant implications for both local communities and the broader ecosystem.

These concerns stem from the informal and often unregulated nature of artisanal gold mining, as well as the use of rudimentary tools and techniques that can lead to negative impacts on the environment and society.

Deforestation, habitat destruction

One of the primary environmental concerns associated with artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe is deforestation and habitat destruction.

 Miners often clear large areas of vegetation to access gold deposits, leading to the depletion of forests and disruption of natural habitats.

This can result in the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and other ecological imbalances, impacting the long-term sustainability of the local environment.

Water pollution, contamination

Additionally, artisanal gold mining is associated with water pollution and contamination.

The use of mercury and other chemicals in the gold extraction process can lead to the release of toxic substances into water bodies, contaminating aquatic ecosystems and posing risks to human health.

The improper disposal of mining waste further exacerbates water pollution, affecting the availability of clean water for both human consumption and agricultural purposes.

Soil degradation, land use conflicts

Soil degradation and land use conflicts are also significant concerns related to artisanal gold mining.

The excavation and processing of gold ore can lead to soil erosion, land degradation, and the disruption of agricultural activities. These activities can encroach upon agricultural land, leading to conflicts between mining communities and local farmers over land use and access to natural resources, further exacerbating social tensions.

Social impacts

In addition to environmental concerns, artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe raises significant social and human rights issues.Furthermore, the influx of people into mining areas can lead to social challenges such as increased crime, drug abuse, and the breakdown of traditional community structures. These social impacts can strain local resources and social services, affecting the well-being of communities and contributing to social instability.

Health and safety risks for miners

Miners, including women and children, often work in hazardous conditions without adequate safety measures, leading to health and safety risks such as exposure to toxic substances, accidents, and respiratory diseases

Child labour and exploitation

Moreover, the prevalence of child labour and exploitation in artisanal gold mining communities is a troubling aspect, with children being vulnerable to exploitation and denied access to education and a safe upbringing.

Conflict and insecurity

In a Crisis Group report dated November 24 2020 entitled, All That Glitters Is Not Gold — Turmoil in Zimbabwe’s Mining Sector, it was reported that “violence had spiked in Zimbabwe’s gold mining sector, costing hundreds of people losing their lives and triggering a police operation that led to the arrest of thousands.

“Media and government blamed artisanal miners, who dig using little mechanisation and often without licences, but are the country’s main gold producers.

“Yet the bloodshed is better seen as a symptom of Zimbabwe’s flawed centralised gold buying scheme, patronage-based economy and obsolete legal and regulatory system.”

The report further added that “gang violence flourishes around gold mining sites where the rule of law is weak. Disputes about mining site ownership are frequent, and police often do not act against intrusions upon mining sites or mining-related violence, particularly when gangs or artisanal miners are politically connected.”

The issue of conflict and security concerns, requires government to intervene since “artisanal miners have no collective rights under the law and in case of disputes authorities often apply the law unevenly.”

But most importantly, law and order needs to be restored since gold is Zimbabwe’s largest foreign exchange earner and the country is desperately short on hard currency and collectively, artisanal miners are the largest producers of gold in Zimbabwe.

 In my next installment, I will discuss management strategies that ought to be put in place to regularise and bring order to artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe.

  • Ndoro-Mkombachoto is a former academic and banker. She has consulted widely in strategy,  entrepreneurship and private sector development for organisations that include Seed Co Africa, Hwange Colliery, RBZ/CGC, Standard Bank of South Africa, Home Loans, IFC/World Bank, UNDP, USAid, Danida, Cida, Kellogg Foundation, among others, as a writer, property investor, developer and manager.  —  @HeartfeltwithGloria/ +263 772 236 341.


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