Free-for-all gold mining creates wasteland – Coltart

Bare surface ... A gold panner uses a metal dictator to search for gold in Shangani

5 November 2012

by Staff Reporter


Wasteland warning ... David Coltart


EDUCATION Minister David Coltart has warned that Zimbabwe faces “long term ruin” from the activities of gold panners – barely a week after President Robert Mugabe announced plans to decriminalise goal panning.

Mugabe, opening Zimbabwe’s fifth parliament on Tuesday last week, declared: “For the illegal panners, steps are on the way to decriminalise and allow them to work in a legal way.”

The plan to legalise gold panning by small scale miners, usually working as individuals, was first mooted in May by Mines Minister Obert Mpofu.

At the time, Mugabe voiced support for the move but also sounded caution, saying: “Mpofu gave you the right to korokoza, but let us do it properly. This is our country so we should not leave gullies everywhere or kill our rivers.”

But Coltart has expressed grave concerns about the environmental impact of free-for-all gold mining.

The minister visited Shangani – a small, largely rural outpost between Bulawayo and Gweru – where the discovery of alluvial gold deposits has triggered a massive gold rush.

Here, Coltart says he found “widespread burning of Zimbabwe's bush” by panners who use metal detectors to find gold.

“They cannot operate the detectors in thick bush because obviously grass and bushes get in the way and prevent them from placing the detector a narrow distance above the surface of the ground,” Coltart said.

“I saw the practice 90km from Bulawayo on the Gweru road, near Shangani opposite Fountains Farm... The entire area has been burnt out, as have hundreds of thousands of hectares in Zimbabwe this spring.”

Coltart warned that the burning of the bush would end in large swathes of the country “desecrated”.

“Unless this practice is brought to an end, Zimbabwe is going to be transformed into a wasteland and desert,” he warned.

“Whilst I sympathise with young men who are out of work, we simply have to control this practice as their short term gain is going to be the long term ruin of our beloved nation.”

Free for all ... Gold panners dig up gold in Shangani

According to Mpofu, a third of gold deliveries this year came from small scale miners commonly known as omakorokoza.

The proposals to reform mining laws have not been published, but Mpofu indicated last week that the gold panners would be issued with free operating licences.

Conservationists worry that it would be difficult to police the gold panners to force them to adhere to operating guidelines.