The importance of small scale mining in Zimbabwe is finally being appreciated: Zimbabwe increases gold processing capacity to support small scale miners.
The mining sector in Zimbabwe continues to be very lucrative, with significant deposits of gold, and some of the largest deposits of platinum and diamonds found anywhere in the world.
Drought, and as a consequence the resulting hunger were significant challenges in Zimbabwe during the early 1990’s. It was at this time that there was an explosion in amount of artisanal or small-scale mining as people desperately searched for an income and therefore a way of supporting themselves.
Small scale mining can refer to small legal mining operations, mining co-operatives and artisanal/informal mining. The artisanal/informal mining sector is largely made up of unregistered alluvial gold panning and gold diggers in or around Zimbabwe’s main rivers.
It has recently been estimated that several million people across Zimbabwe rely on mining to fund at least part of their livelihoods. It is extremely difficult and dangerous work and includes the use of mercury, which over the years has left approximately 70% of all small scale miners with some type of mercury poisoning. Small scale miners are therefore often putting themselves at serious risk for very little return.
Informal small scale mining
Over the years, substantial government royalties and levies encouraged a number of miners to operate illegally.
Attempts were made in 2006 to stop all informal/illegal mining, this had a huge impact on small scale miners taking away not only their income but often their liberty as well. In fact, approximately 25,000 people were arrested and sent to prison during which time and their property was often then confiscated or destroyed.
Formal small scale mining
Most formal small scale mining is seriously underfunded, and as a result can often only take place in the dry season as the pits flood and pumping equipment is expensive so often unavailable. This is however changing over time as some mines are becoming better capitalized, allowing year round mining.
Government support for small scale miners
The amount of gold being produced by small-scale miners has dropped hugely since 2004 when over 17 tonnes of gold was produced, the figure bottomed out at 4 tonnes in 2014 but in 2015 increased to 7.3 tonnes.
The contributed small scale gold mining makes to the overall amount of gold produced in Zimbabwe is unclear however recent estimates put the amount at roughly 25% of the total. The President of the Zimbabwe Artisanal and Small scale for Sustainable mining council (ZASMC) Tapfumanei Murove, believes that the small scale miners are capable of increasing their contribution to 50%.
Current economic problems in Zimbabwe in the wake of the recent drought are expected to push more people into the gold mining sector this year. “We expect the number of artisanal miners to swell and that in turn will mean more gold production,” said Murove.
The government has not only recently reduced royalties from 3% to 1% in an attempt to support small scale miners, but has also increased the amount of mechanization and monitoring, including a recent commitment to build 32 new gold processing centers.
The centers will contain over 5 million dollars’ worth of equipment acquired in China, and will be located in areas of the country where high levels of small scale mining are found. Attempts are currently being made to raise $1.5 million, the amount required to move the equipment to Zimbabwe from China.
The gold processing centers will offer a number of different services including gold milling, collection points and assessments to evaluate the mines environmental impact on its surrounding area.
Small scale gold miners are expected to produce over 12 tonnes of gold in 2016.