FEATURE | ‘I have lost my home’: latest Bubi gold rush reveals need for mining reform

Bubi gold
Ncube family lost its home to the Bubi gold rush (pic: Jane Lusinga)

By Rodrick Moyo and Mukasiri Sibanda 

Two weeks ago, a gold rush was experienced in Bubi district of Matabeleland North, at a place which is a stone’s throw away from Lonely Mine.

Gold rushes in Bubi are not a rare phenomenon. Community witnesses revealed that gold rushes are frequently experienced in Bubi. This year alone, as resident and small scale gold miner Jane Lusinga informed us, eight gold rushes have so far been recorded in Bubi District. The places which experienced gold rushes are Dromaland, Farmona (twice), Battlefields, Durban mine, Chirisa in Durban, Ingaka and Lonely mine.

Jane is the regional representative for women in Matabeleland North province under the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, an umbrella body for all artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMers) associations.

Despite these frequent gold rushes, gold deliveries to Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR) have been falling drastically compared to last year. FPR is the country’s sole gold buyer, refiner and exporter. According to the Midterm Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) delivered in September 2019, gold deliveries to FPR fell by 40.6% during the first half of the year compared to a similar period last year.

12.3 tonnes of gold were delivered to FPR between January and June 2019 against 17.3 tonnes delivered during the comparative period in 2018. According to the Midterm MPS, “exchange rate, pricing and payment issues, which partly accounted for the decline in deliveries.” Strikingly, gold deliveries from Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) accounted for 60% of total gold deliveries to FPR during the first half of 2019.

This article projects the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)’s strong interest in promoting responsible and sustainable ASM. Section 13 and Subsection 4 of the Constitution, on national development, compels the State to set up mechanisms to ensure that communities benefit from resources in their localities. The Africa Mining Vision regards ASM as an integral part of sustainable and inclusive rural socio-economic development.

Lost farmland and uncertainty

Whilst others are furiously trying to dig their way out of poverty, other families are confronted with forced displacement, loss of agricultural land, homesteads destroyed, and future uncertainty. Two families were forced to relocate for safety because of the Lonely mine gold rush.

The Ncube family had their two huts burnt down by artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMers) who then proceeded to dig up the foundations in search for gold.

“I lost my property, a wardrobe, double bed, kitchen utensils, clothes among other valuables,” said Mr Ncube. Despite the loss, Ncube is not against gold mining, he appreciates that if done orderly, the nation stands to benefit from its rich gold endowment.

Artisanal miners have caused destruction to homesteads in Bubi (pic: Mukasiri Sibanda)

To compound matters, the Ncube family field was partly destroyed by the miners. A massive blow because the family relies mostly on dry land crop agriculture as a source of livelihood. Mr Ncube expressed no desire to venture into gold mining.

“I have a background in farming, I once worked at an agriculture research institution in Matopo,” he says.

For safety reasons, Ncube was forced to relocate his family; his three daughters and wife are now staying at his father’s homestead. Ncube reported the invasion of his homestead to the police and the village head. The police responded quickly, but had to call for back up and use guns to disperse the bold miners who were fighting from open pits, throwing stones.

Ncube is now back at his homestead because of the security offered by police officers. With high levels of corruption affecting the corruption experienced in the country, poor salaries for civil servants, police included, there are strong fears by some locals that the police may soon be digging for gold too or taking bribes to allow mining activities.

The situation remains tense, as a large number of miners are camped in the bush nearby. During the night, they fight running battles with the police. Since the gold rush, Mr Ncube has seen different individuals with cars milling around his homestead, holding papers but leaving without engaging him. Ncube fears that these men, who are said to be owners of the gold claims, will forcibly move him without any compensation.

If gold is not being mined in an ethical manner and violating rights of communities residing in areas where gold is extracted, as depicted by the situation of the Ncube family, there may be severe repercussions.

International soft low such as the OECD due diligence guidelines on responsible mineral supply chains can close space for gold from Zimbabwe, barring it from lucrative world markets.

To restore order, government must urgently reform the archaic and colonial Mines and Minerals Act to enable legalisation of ASM. This should be complemented with other measures, such as demarcation of zones viable for ASM, better access to finance and technical skills development among others.

Gold rush benefits?

Gold rushes are normally associated by a massive influx of people seeking to dig their way out of poverty. Although the accurate numbers of people that participated in the recent gold rush that took place at Lonely mine are not known, it is estimated that over one thousand people were involved. This is evidenced by the amount of land degradation, a result of the digging of pits that barely exceed half meters by artisanal and small-scale miners.

“We can control our own local people, but outsiders bring violence…”

Locals are always dominated in numbers by people from elsewhere. One miner we had a conversation with in Bubi had come from Nkayi, 100 km away, to join the Lonely Mine gold rush.

For locals, this presents problems. 

“We can control our own local people, but outsiders bring violence, use abusive language and have no respect at all when we try to engage with them…strangers want quick money at any cost,” said one of the shop owners at Lonely Mine business center.

The gold rush as brought environmental damage to Bubi (pic Mukasiri Sibanda)

There was acknowledgment that the Lonely Mine gold rush led to a spike in violence amongst the miners. According to the police, cases of violence linked to illegal gold mining activities are rarely reported, AMSers prefer to keep the police away from their activities.

Despite fears of violence, the shop owner conceded though that they record brisk business whenever gold rushes occur. Alcohol and some basic commodities such as mealie meal and dried fish (matemba) are some of the items that sell quickly.

Gold and education: the mismatch

There is no evidence of the benefits of the gold rush when it comes to settling school fees at Lonely Primary School. Over half of the pupils at Lonely Mine are in arrears on their fees. According to the school headmistress, “parents prefer to buy food when they get some money from gold mining because the area is suffering from a devastating drought.” 

With no fees coming in, the school is failing to deliver basic services. School attendance is also low; with parents away at the gold pits, children are left at home to fend for themselves, school authorities say.  

The Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), funded by the national purse to support vulnerable children, has rescued some students. However, BEAM only supports 27 pupils out of over 300 children at the school. School authorities were not aware of the local service delivery funds allocated in the 2019 National Budget Statement under section 301 (3) of the Constitution.

All that glitters

Gold rushes are a frequent occurrence in Bubi district, but there is very little to show for it when it comes to delivery of essential services such as education and health. Government must move with speed to ensure that communities residing in areas where resources are extracted derive meaningful benefits from such activities. People are desperate, as poor rainfall and limited employment opportunities drive more and more people into gold mining.

The chaos must be urgently addressed to ensure ethical gold supply chains by preventing conflict, involuntary displacements and violence associated with disorganised gold mining activities. Government must reform the Mines and Minerals Act, a colonial and archaic piece of legislation which in fact criminalises artisanal mining.