By Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)
ZELA APPEARING BEFORE THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEES ON MINES AND MINING DEVELOPMENT AND DEFENCE, HOME AFFAIRS AND SECURITY SERVICES
1.0 ABOUT ZIMBABWE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW ASSOCIATION (ZELA) AND ASM WORK
We are a public interest environmental law group that seeks to promote equitable, just, and sustainable environmental and natural resources management and protection of marginalised communities and citizens in Zimbabwe. We implement different projects across the extractives and natural resources sector and one of the key project clusters is Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM). Our work on ASM is aimed at promoting sustainable, safe, responsible, profitable, and environmentally friendly mining practices. We do this through several initiatives that include training of ASMers on environmental legislation, safety and health standards, provision of mining equipment, mapping of ASM areas, provision of technical advice on mining practices, and promoting responsible sourcing standards. We have implemented ASM-related projects in Gwanda, Shurugwi, Zvishavane, Mutare, Makaha, Mberengwa, Bubi, and we are expanding our work to Kadoma, Kwekwe and Chegutu among other areas. We work with a network of artisanal and small-scale miners and community monitors that we reach through workshops, mine site visits, legal clinics and social media platforms. They all provide us with information on the state of affairs in the ASM sector. We conducted research in 2018 mapping conflicts and criminality in the ASM. We have been monitoring violence in the ASM sector. We also conducted research in June 2020 on the nature of machete violence and criminality in the ASM sector and since that time we have been constantly receiving updates on the situation in different areas.
2.0 OUR PETITION AND PRAYER ON ASM MACHETE VIOLENCE AND CRIMINALITY
ZELA petitioned Parliament in June 2020, in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Our petition came at a time when there were massive cases of violence, criminality, theft of property and displacement of communities in the artisanal and small-scale sector perpetrated by gangs wielding machetes and other weapons of choice in gold mining and trading areas around Zimbabwe. Many people had lost their lives, others injured or lost their sources of livelihoods. Our petition was as follows;
- This petition hearing is coming at a time after the events of 2020, and the situation on the ground has changed since that time.
- In our petition we called on the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development to recommend to the Government an inquiry and action by the Zimbabwe Republic Police to stop the machete violence in ASM gold mining communities.
- We implored Parliament to ask the Government to find a lasting solution to the anarchy brought by machete-wielding gangs and criminals threatening the sustainability of artisanal mining as a viable livelihood option for the youths and unemployed communities around the country involved in ASM activities. Several miners have been robbed of their gold, gold ore, money, property and in some instances violently dislocated from their productive gold sites or claims.
- At that time the duty bearers, including the President were seemingly reluctant to deal with the root cause of the machete-wielding gangs and criminals, while the judiciary failed to deliver justice with some perpetrators continuously enjoying impunity leading to the country’s justice system being labelled ‘inept’.
- The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines jointly with the Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services Committee had made a commitment to undertake an enquiry on the violence and criminality in the ASM sector in February 2020.
- As petitioner, ZELA requested Parliament of Zimbabwe to implore the Executive to uphold the Constitution by ensuring the Artisanal and Small-Scale mining sector is safe for the people especially the women by addressing the machete violence in the sector.
- As Petitioner, ZELA believed, mining policies must be suitably tailored to promote responsible sourcing of minerals in Zimbabwe, including in the ASM sector. Parliament should urge the executive to uphold the principles of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Responsible Sourcing principles some of which are found in international standards that seek to eliminate conflicts and human rights violations in conflict affected and high risk areas such as the OECD Due Diligence Guidance. The executive should take measures to urgently review, enact and enforce laws that promote responsible sourcing and mining of minerals, in the ASM and generally the mining sector in Zimbabwe.
2.1 Historical developments and character of the problem
Between the period, late 2019 to early 2020 the ASM sector was characterized by the disturbing upsurge of Machete violence cases. Lives were lost, people were injured, women were allegedly raped and lots of property was lost to the gangs and criminals. 105 people had been killed in the mining town of Kadoma in just three months from August to October of 2019, while hundreds of others were severely injured in machete attacks. This was just in one gold mining hotspot and there were cases that were not reported or recorded. In Chegutu 125 cases machete-related cases  were recorded in 2019.
2.2 Current State of Affairs
While the ‘situation’ seems to have normalized and we appreciate the effort by the police through the Chikorokoza Chapera operation which has resulted in notable achievements as of 12 December 2020, with a total of 57 000 machete gangs, criminals, and Mashurugwi having been arrested. As recently as May 2021 miners in areas like Kwekwe and Kadoma reported that they still fear for their lives in the event they strike gold on their claims. The Machete gangs are there lurking and ready to pounce and take away the hard-earned ore/gold. The sad thing is even when they report to the police, the perpetrators are released an hour later. The law enforcement agents seem to be working in syndicates with the gangs or criminals while in some areas the police are ill-prepared or may not even have transport or manpower to deal with the violence or respond to reported cases. Some police even fear intervention including reaching out to such hotspot areas in Kwekwe.
In 2021, while the incidents and conflicts in the ASM are not as fatal as before, the tactics used by the gangs and criminals have changed and the machete gangs still torment the miners. Instead of using machete, some are now even using guns and raiding homes of gold miners or my owners. In the 1st quarter of 2021 the following cases were reported to ZELA;
- In Sanyati, there was a gold rush recently, when the gangs heard of it, they violently displaced everyone and took over the gold mining site.
- In Mutimutema in Silobela, a group of people came in the middle of the night with guns, demanding for gold or cash.
- In Kwekwe, Mbizo 21 a gang that calls itself Mabhudhi, came upon a registered claim that had started receiving samples, they mined on the claim for four consecutive days without giving the owner anything.
- In Gwanda cases of armed gangs (with guns) who raided homes and shops for gold and money were recorded.
- In Mapanzure area in Zvishavane, chrome ore theft has become the order of the day as ‘mabhuru’ (a term the machete gang is referred to) forcefully and violently takes away chrome ores.
- In Nyamandlovu, a mine along the Gwayi river, villagers were injured in a gold rush that resulted in a clash with Makorokoza.
The cases of machete gangs and criminals in the gold sector dent investor confidence as many international companies and investors are embracing responsible sourcing and mining practices and avoiding areas affected by conflict or high-risk areas. If the gangs are not dealt with Zimbabwean gold might be tainted as “blood gold”. As COVID-19 left many people and in particular the youths jobless, the number of people going into mining will increase. If the gangs are not deterred or the situation not managed, another round and upsurge of violence and crimes may occur. This risk and vulnerability is real and should be looked at closely.
3.0 DRIVERS OF MACHETE VIOLENCE, CRIMINALITY AND CONFLICTS IN ASM
3.1 Impacts of COVID
The covid-19 Pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 have left many people jobless and has wrecked different sources of livelihoods. However, when the Government declared mining as an essential service and miners were allowed to operate, many joined the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, while others joined the agricultural sector which was also declared as an essential service. Criminals and opportunists also joined the sector. The Ministry of Mines reported a backlog in terms of processing of applications for mining claims. As a result of the huge influx of people into the sector conflicts were bound to happen. Criminals were also attracted by the lure of gold. Conflicts over mining claims also resulted from the increased number of people joining the sector.
3.2 Digging gold is synonymous with US dollar earnings, criminals are also attracted.
Persistent currency problems in the country has propped up the significance of gold as a substitute currency. Having been struggling to sustain a multi-currency regime which was established in 2009 to barricade the economy against hyperinflation, government introduced a domestic currency, which again is not trusted by many people. Since digging gold is almost synonymous with USD earnings, more and more people have been attracted into ASM sector as they can easily sell their gold on the black market and get paid in US$. This has also attracted criminals and organized gangs into the sector who easily go around mining areas harassing and robbing miners.
3.3 The mining rights award and title administration system fueling disputes
Repeated efforts by government to modernize the mining cadastre system – the awarding and administration of mining rights and title have remained fruitless to date. The old system being used is prone to manipulation and mistakes leading to double allocation of mining claims. Consequently, disputes are a common feature especially when gold rushes occur with two or more people claiming ownership over gold mining claims. The disputes can easily spill into violence as people fight to secure access of prolific gold areas. The maps currently being used to allocate claims are old and tattered, in some cases officials have to estimate boundaries resulting in double pegging or boundary disputes. Such is the case in Chinhoyi and Midlands Province (Gweru office) among others. Double pegging of claims driven by corruption also fuels the violence as one can lose a claim they had for years because one was able to “grease” the right hands and have a claim allocated to them.
3.4 Gold Detector Technology making it easy for spreading of information on gold deposits
The use of gold detectors has made it easier for artisanal and small-scale miners to illegally prospect and discover gold. If one drives along many public roads in the country for example along Harare-Bulawayo in areas around Kwekwe and Kadoma, and other routes in Matabeleland region, Zvishavane, Shurugwi among others one can easily notice artisanal miners freely carrying Gold Detectors going to mining sites. Once the gold is discovered, advanced use of social media especially WhatsApp allows information to be easily disseminated to other miners. Illegal gold buyers who are aware that they can easily get huge amounts of gold within a short space facilitate the movement of violent gangs to control access and guarantee the gold supplies. The illegal gold buyers allegedly provide transport, food and alcohol to gangs including protection from arrest as they allegedly can bribe the police. Criminals also take advantage of the situation and descend on such areas. Such gold rushes and situations in many cases result in violent conflicts amongst different gangs or groups of miners.
3.5 Senior people fingered in violence
Artisanal and small-scale miners in Gwanda narrated how some senior people in Matabeleland South are allegedly behind the chaos and violence in the ASM sector. Miners in the region always narrate cases of the influential who abuse their powers to facilitate and control access to prolific gold sites in a manner which ferments conflict and violence. Such elites then organize their people to take over some of the mines. Some women have lost mining claims to senior leaders.
3.6 Security officers involved in illegal activities
Since 2017, Newspaper reports were awash with stories of involvement of police and military officers in ASM,. In Bubi, 17 police officers were arrested for illegal gold mining activities, a story reported in the Chronicle, 28 January 2017. In 2020 ASM miners in Gwanda reported several cases of police officers who were allegedly working with criminals to rob miners of their gold. In 2020 ten police officers were arrested in Chegutu for allegedly prospecting without a licence . In 2020, police officers that were protecting a disaster site Ran mine , where 30 artisanal miners were trapped. It is alleged the officers offered security services by day and by night accepted bribes for people to go into the then restricted area to mine. The police are said to have charged usd$10 per night.
3.7 Buying gold on no questions asked basis creates a free for all scenario
RBZ is buying gold on no questions asked basis albeit not aligned with the Gold Trade Act. This was a measure that was introduced by the Treasury through the 2014 National Budget Statement. It was a stop gap measure meant to facilitate the registration of artisanal miners. It is almost seven years now since the introduction of buying gold on no questions asked basis. Instead of leveraging this moratorium to promote registration and formalization of artisanal miners, chaos, conflict and criminality festered. What this means is that one can use violence or even kill to secure gold and easily dispose of it to Fidelity Printers and Refineries without any questions being asked. The know your client rules which allow traceability of gold have been set aside. Government has also been hesitant on re-joining the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) after dropping out in 2007 for failing to produce the 10 tonnes of gold required for membership. It is key to note that in 2012, gold production surpassed the 10 tonnes required to join LBMA. Currently gold from Zimbabwe is being refined in South Africa as Zimbabwe lacks international accreditation. The prices offered by FPR for gold are not very competitive while in many cases it struggles to pay miners US$ cash for gold deliveries. All this pushes a lot of gold into the black market, which in turn breeds a fertile ground for criminality and conflict. Essentially the gold mining sector has become a high risk and conflict affected area that requires attention by promoting responsible gold mining, trading and export measures.
During the anti-corruption day, Thursday 19 December 2019, the President disclosed that he was approached by a gold buyer in Dubai who revealed that he was buying UD$60 million worth of gold in Zimbabwe from the black market. Cases of smuggling gold via the airport is increasing. This shows that the gold mining sector in Zimbabwe is susceptible to transboundary organized crime which has no respect to the rule of law and can easily contribute to violence and other illicit behavior.
3.8 Farmer-Miner Conflicts/ land use conflict
A lot of conflicts have emerged pitting miners against farmers, while others pit miners against wildlife conservation groups and the tourism sector. The traditional views in the mining sector have been that mining supercedes all others forms of land use. In the event a mineral is found on one’s land their usufruct rights are disregarded. This has left many farmers/landowners who have lost land and/ property disgruntled and, in some cases, has accelerated to violence. The landowners/ users claim a share of the gold and the miners are not keen on sharing. In addition, miners leave behind a lot of open pits that have resulted in the loss of livestock and in some cases, children allegedly falling into the pits.
3.9 Disclosure of gold production statistics by custom millers
The disclosure of gold production statistics of the artisanal and small-scale miners by custom millers has resulted in increased target robberies in the ASM sector.
4.0 LINK BETWEEN MINERAL SMUGGLING AND CONFLICT
ZELA carried out a research on border control of Minerals Flows in Zimbabwe, which analysed the legislative, institutional and border control practices and systems. The research revealed institutional weaknesses on border control systems and practices that lead to smuggling of gold and other minerals from the artisanal and small-scale mining sector including porous borders, inadequate infrastructure, limited border territory security, limited and malfunctioning scanners, poor surveillance of the customs area, lack of coordination among the multiple border agencies and collusion between border officials and smugglers. Other factors include contested mining taxation laws, lack of coordination among the several government departments and agencies involved in mining that leads to red tape, monopoly by Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) as the sole buyer of gold, limited human resources capacity. All these factors combine to create a fertile ground for conflicts in the ASM sector as criminals, illegal dealers and gangs compete to buy or access gold on the cheap from the ASM sector for illegal export which is more profitable than declaring the gold to Fidelity Printers. Such a situation fuels violence and conflicts at mine sites.
- A Joint Mines and Defence Committee Investigation on hotspot areas of conflict will be critical to identify the causes, nature and new forms of conflict and come up with recommendations for Government to proactively address the causes of conflicts or address any simmering conflicts. Even though cases of killings have significantly declined the situation might be inflamed again at any time.
- Formalisation of the Artisanal mining sector will be essential for Zimbabwe. This include passage of legislation with an artisanal mining permit so that miners are organized and can work on allocated mining claims. South Africa recently gazetted Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Policy 2021-(April 2021). The South African draft policy recommends definition of artisanal mining and definition for small scale mining, ASM permits for locals, designation of areas for ASM, artisanal separate from Small scale mining, and reserved for South Africans. Zimbabwe should immediately follow suit. Zambia has also taken similar steps.
- The Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services Committee, jointly with the Mines Committee should investigate mineral leakages at border posts and airports of Zimbabwe. This will enable the Committee to recommend policy and administrative measures to identify the risks and vulnerabilities and factors that contribute to conflicts, loss of revenue for the country and curb illicit gold exports and trade. ZELA will share its research findings with the Committee.
- Finalization of the Mines and Mineral Amendment bill: The public is not very clear on whether the process is going forward or not. The Bill can be used as an opportunity to legislate and regulate artisanal mining by including a definition of artisanal mining and provisions on organizing them and giving them a permit. Currently the bill only refers to small scale miners.
- Government should provide land for ASMers, (ZMDC) might have some claims or holding special grants on which artisanal and small scale miners may be granted tribute agreements or alternatively Government should encourage large scale or medium scale mining companies or those granted with EPOs to release lands via tribute agreements to ASMers so as to lessen conflicts as sometimes ASMers encroach on land belonging to mining companies.
- Mapping farmer-miner conflicts in the country will be crucial. This can allow the Government to understand the extent of the problem and prevent conflicts between farmers and miners.
- Government should speed up establishment of the mining cadastre system to eliminate overpegging or double allocation of mining claims.
- Increased mine inspections by the Ministry of Mines. Government presence in mining areas especially hotspot gold mining areas is important as a measure to prevent conflicts.
- Miners at local level should coordinate locally and work with the local police to curb criminality at community level (In Gwanda miners are coordinating efforts and sharing information on the security situation on WhatsApp groups)
- It is important for the Government to institute responsible sourcing and mining policy and administrative reforms and practices in the ASM sector to ensure traceability of minerals, especially gold. This will enable miners (ASM and Large-Scale), custom millers, gold buyers and dealers, Fidelity Printers and export agencies to identify all actors along the gold supply chain and their sources of gold or gold ore to check if the actors are not contributing to fueling conflicts in the ASM sector. Due diligence measures can be taken by these actors in line with the OECD Due Diligence Guidance on Responsible Sourcing from Conflict affected or high-risk areas, or the EU Regulation on Conflict Minerals and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.