By Gift Phiri
Police officers have joined scores of illegal gold diggers hacking away at the verdant hills in remote Matabeleland South, glimpsing an opportunity to shore up their meagre salaries, but inflicting an intractable problem of environmental degradation.
Speaking in the Senate last week, MDC Senator for Matabeleland South, Sithembile Mlotshwa, called on government to combat rampant illegal gold mining that has sucked in cops.
She said her territory has been plagued by illegal mining, as police officers continue to cut down trees, tear up hillsides, and poison rivers with mercury in their search for gold.
She said there was a gold rush in Bubi.
Mercury — a toxic liquid metal used to separate gold from grit — has become a growing cause for concern, with the substance polluting water sources and entering the food chain through fish in polluted rivers.
Mlotshwa called for long-term solutions based on having more people on the ground, graver punishments and a focus on those hiring the miners and supplying equipment. She inquired if there was a law to stem the scourge.
Home Affairs deputy minister Obedingwa Mguni said the law is there in the Standing Orders of the commissioner-general of police that cops should not be involved in pirating taxes or gold mining.
“On that, we need to work together as a forum and the community if we see such people doing that and inform the commissioner-general of police so that the person may be guided or disciplined in line with the law.
“If we say these people are in charge of implementing the law and they are the ones found breaking the law, it does not work out well.
“Even the residents can help us so that those who are involved in such activities, we take measures against them so that the law is upheld,” Mguni said.
Mlotshwa said: “Honourable minister, looking at what you have just said, I see that the police are being allowed by you to be involved in such activities. If you do not allow that, the police would not be involved in such activities…Even if you see them doing such activities, you will not arrest them. What are you going to do?”
Mguni said police have arrested some cops in Bubi who have since been discharged from the service.
“If we find a police officer involved in such activities, we discharge them from service,” he said. “We do not allow them to be involved in corrupt activities. If an officer disobeys the law, we will reprimand them. We have laws to correct such anomalies.”
It is estimated that there are between 300 000 and 400 000 artisanal miners in Zimbabwe, most of them unskilled, under-equipped, with little appreciation of the environment and using rudimentary methods and processes to extract minerals.
Official estimates show makorokoza produce around 25 percent of approximately 1 500 kg of gold produced in Zimbabwe per month and sell it to local dealers at cut rates below the market.
Government is pushing for amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act regulating the small-scale miners by urging them to formalise their operations, apply for official mining concessions with environmental permits and pay taxes. Daily News