editorial comment

MINES and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando’s ambitious prospects for the country to notch a US$12 billion mining industry could crumble due to government’s failure to promote sustainable extraction of the gold resource.

It is a fact that the small-scale mining sector, much of it illegal and unregulated, is expanding worldwide faster than at any time in history and, with it, the health threats posed by mercury. The gold rush across the country and along Mazowe River, in particular, is wreaking havoc to the environment, threatening livelihoods which depend on its water body.

Clearly, the small-scale mining industry is motivated less by adventure than survival. Poverty-driven artisanal miners rely on inexpensive, outdated, polluting technologies and chemicals — chief among them mercury — with heavy costs to human health and the environment.

Nowhere is this problem of mercury contamination more urgent than in Zimbabwe. Gold mining has become the fastest growing industry, with panners and artisanal miners producing the bulk of the country’s gold. No doubt this has turned the countryside into Zimbabwe’s leading per capita emitter of mercury.

The source of this pollution is a little known, but widely practised variety of small-scale gold mining, found throughout rural districts of the developing world. Elsewhere, in this issue we are carrying pictures of people panning for gold along the Mazowe River bank. Regrettably though is the fact that Chinese ventures are being allowed to pan for gold, sometimes diverting the flow of the river.

This is because gold is hugely simple to extract using mercury, with the locals used for panning for gold oblivious of the danger to themselves, communities and their livestock downstream.

Shouldn’t foreigners be restricted to capital intensive mining projects? Why would government allow them to compete with locals for a venture that uses rudimentary machinery to extract gold? Should protecting the environment not take precedent over shortsighted ventures? Chitando, himself a miner, should know better. You don’t exalt an industry at the expense of the poor majority trying to eke out a living. He should promote sustainable mining, not this.

The environment has been greatly affected by such activities, destruction of trees along the river banks, which in turn results in erosion and siltation of the dams downstream.

These activities disturb the natural ecosystem. When the mercury is washed into dams it does not only disturb aquatic life, but also livestock used for people’s livelihoods.

It is time for government to have strict environment laws to deal with the proliferation of eastern capitalists to secure the future of our people. Dams have been a very important way of harvesting water for irrigation as well as supplying cities with potable water.

While gold is a huge foreign currency earner, it should not come at a cost to the future of the country. There is need to balance the two as failure to do so will affect our future food security.

It is high time we focus on the environment; preserve rivers and all other sources of water, forests as well as engage in good farming methods. We should be mindful of the fact that the country belongs to future generations.

Reports of some companies operating mines without Environmental Management Agency (EMA) impact assessment reports because the mine is run by politically-connected people should come to an end.

We call upon EMA to take an active role in punishing those who conduct their business in a manner harmful to the environment.

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