Small-scale mining key to national development

> Lazarus Sauti

Small-scale enterprises are fast becoming the major drivers for economic prosperity in Zimbabwe, but the country, it seems, is slow in embracing and exploiting them.

As a result, most enterprises are suffering and the country’s economy is stagnant.

One sector that is highly neglected by the country is small-scale mining, commonly referred to as artisanal (chikorokoza).

It is evidently clear that small-scale mining has overtaken the formal mining sector, but it continues to be a giant in deep slumber thanks to government’s lack of support.

Government’s refusal to recognise the potential inherent in small-scale mining is stalling economic development.

The sector continues to bleed the economy as much of its proceeds are failing to find their way into the formal sector.

Across the country, small-scale miners continue to ravage the countryside in search of precious materials, especially gold, with very little benefit being realised by the government and citizens.

Giving the state of small-scale and artisanal mining in Zimbabwe at an alternative mining indaba in Bulawayo recently, Zimbabwe Mining Federation chief executive officer Wellington Takavarasha said small-scale mining has the potential to spur economic revolution in the country, but the government is reluctant to support it.

“In 2014, artisanal miners produced 3.9 tonnes of gold and to date we have produced two tonnes. The figures can rise significantly if the formalisation and regularisation exercise is expedited (and) possible targets annually can be pegged at over 20 tonnes,” Takavarasha said.

To fully benefit from small-scale mining, Takavarasha notes, the government should also empower small-scale miners simply by addressing challenges that affect them on a daily basis.

“Small-scale miners are faced with a plethora of challenges chief among them lack of basic infrastructure, lack of technology, high utilisation of rudimentary mining equipment, lack of geological information on the ore bodies, lack of access to finance, little or no collateral as well as no credit record.

“The government should work hard to address these hurdles,” he said.

Takavarasha also said the government should reduce mining fees as they are prohibitive and stifling the growth of the mining sector.

“Mine milling fees are too high as they are pegged at US$8 000, explosives at US$1 000, prospecting and registration US$1 500,” he said adding that “the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) is also charging high fees as the environmental impact assessment (EIA) compilation is pegged at more US$5 000.”

However, the government is working flat out to revive artisanal mining.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the National Assembly recently that the government has cut down on royalties charged on artisanal miners.

“The royalties used to be five percent and now we have reduced them to one percent. I want to encourage those who are selling gold that they should sell their gold in the country instead of outside,” he said. Chinamasa also said that operations of small-scale miners had been de-criminalised to increase output.

“In the six months of last year, artisanal miners delivered 900kg or so of gold. In the first six months of this year, artisanal miners alone delivered three tonnes,” he added.

This shows small-scale mining has the potential to transform the country’s economy as it not only brings employment, but also contributes directly to the government through royalties.

Accordingly, the government, the public sector, private sector as well as the business community should put their heads together and support small-scale mining in order to promote sustainable development in Zimbabwe.

Further, supporting small-scale mining is a foolproof way of achieving the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset), the country’s economic blue-print. According to the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), a policy think tank, artisanal mining has been growing on an international scale, with estimates indicating that 10 to 15 million workers are engaged in the sector globally and over 100 million people are indirectly dependent on it.

In a 2014 study on artisanal mining in Zimbabwe, SAIIA noted that there is a marked correlation between this growth and the general economic situation in a country: when economic conditions deteriorate, artisanal mining increases. Figures also suggest that the sector contributes 10% of all mineral production in over 50 developing countries worldwide.

“The sector forms a significant part of the livelihoods of rural Zimbabweans, who depend on it to weather economic hardship. Due to its growing prominence, rights campaigners and policymakers are beginning to focus more on the difficulties facing artisanal miners. Major challenges include the conflict, human rights abuses, smuggling and environmental degradation associated with the sector. How can artisanal miners be incorporated effectively into a more prosperous and inclusive mining industry, where the extant conflict driven relationship between artisanal miners and commercial miners is transformed?”

Zimbabwe needs more proactive policies with consistent implementation to leverage the sector to catalyse sustainable development in local communities, SAIIA said.

“Artisanal gold mining is becoming an increasingly prominent issue for policymakers and stakeholders involved in Zimbabwe’s gold mining industry. While there are significant challenges, great potential also exists to leverage artisanal mining for poverty alleviation, economic growth and sustainable development. In light of the sector’s challenges and promises, especially in Zimbabwe where gold is such a valued resource, it is becoming increasingly important that policymakers, government and stakeholders embrace partnerships that will maximise mutual benefits for all stakeholders while lowering the known drawbacks of artisanal gold mining.”

October 2015
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