IT has been one of the bloodiest phases in Zimbabwe since artisanal mining spurted out in the late 1990s, just as the industrial crisis kicked in.
Since Wednesday last week, 30 artisanal miners have been trapped under a disused old mine shaft at Ran Mine in Bindura.
In Esigodini, six more miners are feared dead after a shaft gave in on November 10. No one even attempted to rescue them.
And in Chegutu, five more artisanal miners recently lost their lives in another mine shaft collapse as they braved the dangers and difficulties that confront these workers in search of gold to earn an income.
Television images of the desperation and tears that gripped entire families last year when 24 more miners perished at Battlefields after their old shafts were flooded are still in our minds, and those tears haven’t dried yet.
And if you add these sad events to many more deaths that strike poor families and the public never get to know, a full picture of a national crisis emerges.
We are witnessing a genocide taking place while we fold our hands.
The deaths are taking place because government has pushed 500 000 people to scour the forest in search for some form of income to keep their families going due to economic mismanagement and corruption.
They have been blamed for risking their lives under dangerous tunnels and flooded shafts, but they are not insane.
They know the dangers better than us, but they have no choice.
The companies they used to work for have closed.
And opportunities in long “hanging fruit” industries like agriculture have been closed by a combination of mismanagement and corruption.
We demand that government puts in place programmes and measures, without butchering, injuring and killing them, to make sure that the work of artisanal miners is not only sustainable but safe.
One of these measures may be rolling out awareness programmes to miners about the dangers that lie underground.
Government must also encourage them to only mine in certified zones, at the same time giving them solutions about how to end their suffering.
It may be a tall order for authorities, who have not shown any inclination to providing any kind of solution the crisis facing the miners.
But this is the only way government can end the bloodshed.
As a country, we must learn to manage this new way of life because artisanal mining will be here for some time.
Ending it will require lasting solutions to this country’s hardships.
We must unlock opportunities for these people to start sustainable, viable businesses as opposed to the dangers they face in disused mines.
If these businesses start, they will absorb more artisanal miners into formal jobs, thereby limiting environmental degradation, mindless killing by machete wielding gangs, and even looting at a larger scale.
Government must move with speed to stop the bloodshed that is taking place underground.
The police must arrest the big powers behind this looting.
We need a multi-prolonged approach.
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