THERE has been a outcry over machete gangs that terrorise mining communities, thereby affecting government’s ambitious US$12 billion mining industry vision by 2023. Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) director Shamiso Mtisi (SM) blames machete gangs and rogue elements in the mining sector for hindering production. Mtisi said with proper mechanisms in place to end machete gangs, among other malpractices in the mining sector, a safe mining environment could be achieved.
Mtisi last week told NewsDay (ND) reporter Lorraine Muromo that there is need for miners to rehabilitate the environment after their operations as well as ensure that mining communities benefit from the extractive activities in their areas. Mtisi also called for measures that ensure transparency and financial probity and accountability in the mining sector.
ND: Last year, machete gangs wreaked havoc in mining communities, what is the situation like at the moment?
SM: I am happy with the situation on the ground which indicates that there has been a reduction of cases of machete gangs because of arrests made by the police in 2020. However, in 2021 there have been reports as well about machete gangs — especially in areas such as Gwanda and others. You have to understand that machete gangs are criminals; they are people who do not have anything to do with mining, but are just there to cause havoc and disorder in the sector. However, there are also rogue elements within the mining sector. This affects production as miners are raided, and people are killed in the process, thereby crippling production.
The achievement of the US$12 billion mining industry will not come to fruition if this problem is not solved. However, we have been encouraging the formation of security committees by miners within their neighbourhoods where they will share information on how best they can help each other.
ND: How have mining companies dealt with the rehabilitation of the environment where they operate? Are there cases where you have witnessed serious environmental damage due to mining activities?
SM: If you take a look at areas such as Zvishavane and if you move from Boterekwa and beyond, you will see massive environmental harm done by Chinese mining companies. Some of the areas have been rehabilitated, thanks to some companies such as Zimasco, but there are still some outstanding areas in Shurugwi where land has not been rehabilitated. It is a fact that during mining, environmental damage is expected, but companies should rehabilitate the areas according to environmental laws and standards.
ND: Why is it important for mining companies to get environmental impact assessment (EIA) certificates before embarking on mining operations?
SM: EIA certificates are very important documents that companies should have in their possession when operating. They are important because they identify risks associated with any project; be it obstruction of water bodies, displacement of local communities from their land, loss of land or environmental impact.
EIA reports or certificates indicate the measures that a company will take or adopt in appreciation of environmental harm. Through these certificates, a company gives assurance to stakeholders that it is committed to rehabilitating the environment.
The major problem is that many companies start a project without EIA certificates and some are in possession of them, but do not implement their promises.
For example, a company might promise to drill a borehole for the community, but won’t do it in the long run. Most companies, to be honest, simply do not comply with their EIAs.
ND: Has there been development by mining companies in Chiadzwa through Community Share Ownership Trusts?
SM: No, the problem with community ownership in Chiadzwa is that the money was eroded by inflation. If I remember correctly, they were promised a total of $3 million, but the money was eroded by inflation.
The mining companies that benefited from Chiadzwa tried to build a few structures, clinics, hospitals and a classroom block that were never completed and so it can be said that the community never benefited anything from the Chiadzwa expedition. We are currently in talks with the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) and it has promised to deal with some of the problems caused by the Chiadzwa expedition. But it’s not easy for them since they are dealing with legacy issues.
ND: What are your observations with regards to mining companies supporting communities?
SM: To be frank, it depends with the company involved. Some companies give back to the community and others do not. For example, a company like ZCDC will furnish you with a full list of the things it has done and accomplished, for example, the construction of schools, borehole drilling and roadworks.
Mimosa will also likely give you a list and on the other hand, some companies have literally done nothing. Those companies which comply with community share ownership schemes tried to do something, for example in Chiadzwa, but the projects flopped. If you take a survey, you will find out that mining companies such as Blanket in Gwanda, Zimplats, Unki, Mimosa have done some projects to give back to the communities surrounding them.
ND: I understand the Mines and Minerals Act has not been amended as yet, what are the possible effects of this on the mining industry?
SM: Yes, it has not been passed into law as yet. There are still consultations going on around the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill. At the present, we are stuck with the old Act. The most possible effects are that we are stuck with an old and archaic piece of legislation that does not speak to the new dispensation which calls for transparency, accountability and financial probity. It means that this piece of legislation is not adequate. However, if the Bill is crafted, it will solve a number of issues that have been a stumbling block in the industry.
First and foremost, it will set up a mining cadastre system to identify and point out who owns what mine, where, when, how and the type of licence involved. That in turn will eliminate overlaps in mining ownership and bring on board small-scale ownership. However, it will not solve the issue of artisanal miners as they are not included in the Bill. There is a huge need for government to look into that.
ND: How can issues of transparency and accountability be enhanced in the mining sector?
SM: The issues of transparency and accountability are very important and the adoption of extractive industry transparency initiatives calls for the disclosure of mining revenues and contracts.
Once those are made public, it becomes easy to achieve transparency and accountability in the mining sector. They can be enhanced through implementation of constitutional provisions and that in turn will advance transparency and accountability. If we can implement some of these provisions, we can reach that goal.