Illegal gold panners defy directive

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Mashudu Netsianda

Bulawayo Bureau

UNCONTROLLED illegal gold panning at Nugget Mine in Matobo District is continuing unabated, resulting in massive land degradation that has affected studies on crops at Matopos Research Institute Farm and caused the death of pedigree breeding livestock.

The mine is situated at Matopos Research Institute Farm comprising an area of 28 000 hectares leased from the Rhodes Matopos Estate.

The farm, which is part of the Command Agriculture programme that yielded bumper harvests countrywide, is also a centre for international research work aimed at improving agriculture in Southern Africa and beyond.

Matopos Research Institute Farm is an essential national and international asset which seeks to enhance livestock production and other crops in Zimbabwe and the region.

The centre is run by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), an international organisation that conducts agricultural research for rural development. Last month, the Minister of State in the Office of the President and Cabinet in charge of monitoring and implementation of special agriculture-related programmes, David Marapira gave the panners an ultimatum to vacate the property by August.

However, despite the ministerial directive, illegal gold panners yesterday vowed to stay put, arguing that the gold panning was their only source of livelihood.

When our Bulawayo Bureau news crew visited the mine, the area was teeming with gold panners operating in different sections of the mine conducting their illegal activities.

The area was a hive of activity as food vendors targeting the panners could be seen milling around the mine.

Honda Fit pirate taxis are also plying the routes with some of them being used by gold panners.

Mr Thabani Sibanda (34) of Emakhandeni suburb, said he has been surviving on illegal panning for the past five years.

He said despite numerous raids by police, he would continue to operate at the mine.

“There is nothing that I can do outside gold panning to survive in these harsh economic times. Every day, I come here to do gold panning so that I am able to fend for my family,” said Mr Ndlovu. Police come here to conduct routine raids, but it is a cat-and-mouse game and we will continue to maintain our presence because this is where we get our money for food.”

Another gold panner, Mr Khulisani Nkomo (24) of Nkulumane said: “We have been given an ultimatum by authorities to vacate Nugget Mine, but I don’t see anyone of us leaving because we will starve.” A food vendor, Ms Emily Siziba of Mpopoma said business is brisk at the mine.

“This is where I get money for food, rent and school fees. I sell isitshwala, rice and meat to gold panners and in the event that these people (gold panners) are chased away… it means my family will starve because there is a lot of business here,” she said.

Minister Marapira, whose task is to ensure the monitoring and implementation of Government programmes focusing on Command Agriculture, mechanisation and irrigation development, matters relating to environmental and fire management as well as climate change, last month visited Nugget Mine and expressed concern over land degradation.

EMA provincial manager for Matabeleland South, Mr Decent Ndlovu said illegal gold panners are destroying the environment and causing land degradation through their illegal mining activities.

“These illegal gold panners are a menace to the environment, which we are trying to protect as EMA. We are therefore saying even miners operating legally should be regulated to protect the environment,” he said.

One of the farmers affected by illegal mining activities, Mr Andy Groenewald recently lost 50 cattle in the last two years to illegal gold panners. Herald

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