MUTARE – Corrupt officials are feasting on illegal artisanal miners in Penhalonga, allegedly extorting money from them to avoid arrests, a leading anti-graft agency has said.
Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) official Tracy Mutowekuziva told journalists in Mutare this week that her organisation was pushing for the formalisation of the sector to plug the corruption loopholes.
“Unregistered artisanal gold miners in Penhalonga are easy prey for corrupt government officials and guards who are demanding money from them to allow them to continue with their activities.
“We are therefore pushing for the formalisation of this key segment in the mining industry and also assisting some of them to apply for claims and formalise their activities but even that too is difficult,” Mutowekuziva said.
Formalisation would also aid the enforcement of government regulations that also protect the environment easier, she said.
“Formalising their operations will not only help curb corruption but also help preserve the environment so we hope government will try to make the processes much easier for everyone,” the TIZ official said.
Artisanal gold mining activities in this area are contributing to the silting of downstream dams, choking of Odzi River with sand and the silting of Save River further down.
The artisanal miners are also forever a potent deforestation annoyance and, camping in the wild, they often ignite wildfires.
Hundreds of illegal miners are working along Mutare River as it meanders westwards as it leaves the Penhalonga dams that were left behind by DTZ-OZGEO (Pvt) Limited when it was forced to close by a government ban of riverbed mining back in 2013.
Efforts to end the illegal mining have not yielded fruit over the years with some working hardly 100 metres from a police post near Hartzel along the Nyanga-Mutare highway.
There are growing calls for the formalisation of artisanal mining.
Without it, there may not be another way around regulating their activities for the benefit of others who also depend on the river for their livelihoods.
Centre for Natural Resource Governance director Farai Maguwu earlier argued that government can regulate it better when they embrace instead of criminalise them.
He has also been pushing for the legalisation of artisanal mining which was outlawed upon the repealing of statutory instrument 275 of 1991 in 2006 during a nationwide campaign to end artisanal mining activities in an operation code named: Operation Chikorokoza Chapera.