Artisanal gold-mining is nothing new to Zimbabwe; in fact, it’s a practice that is centuries old. What is especially interesting about the practice today, though, is how innovative Zimbabweans are using mining as a means of supporting their families in difficult economic times.
The correlation between economic strain and accelerated entry into the mining sector is strong. Zimbabwe has undergone a decade and a half of economic turmoil that began in 2000 with the collapse of its agricultural economy when the government forced out large farms only to replace them with much smaller ones run by inexperienced staff.
As a result, swaths of the population were forced to seek alternative employment, such as small-scale mining. By 2018, it is estimated that so many Zimbabweans will have adopted artisanal gold-mining that Zimbabwe’s gold output will double.
As an industry, gold-mining has the power to support thousands of hard-working Zimbabweans. According to the South African Institute of International Affairs, which in May 2014 published a comprehensive policy briefing on the topic, “artisanal gold-mining has emerged as one of the few means of poverty alleviation for poverty-stricken people in mineral-rich communities.”
Despite this, however, the government of Zimbabwe has yet to support the industry – in fact, it has criminalized small-scale mining altogether.
Government opposition to mining is a result of concerns that mining leads to environmental degradation and political instability. To some extent, these concerns are legitimate – mining relies not only on the use of dangerous chemicals but can also lead to water pollution and landscape erosion, as well as result in community tensions when workers of differing ethnicities and ideologies flood into mining towns.
Traditionally, Zimbabwe has enforced the criminalization of artisanal mining, arresting those who are caught engaging in the practice. However, because artisanal miners move between gold mines very quickly, law enforcement alone has not managed to end non-commercial mining in Zimbabwe.
The government of Zimbabwe would be smart to regulate rather than criminalize artisanal mining, as it benefits the country as a whole. Increased gold output over the past several years has earned Zimbabwe a reputation for being mineral-rich, and in turn, has led to increased international investment.
Mining gives individuals who would otherwise face unemployment an income, allowing them to participate in local economies, perhaps put down roots and in some cases, even undertake their own entrepreneurial ventures.
Lacking the violence with which it is often associated, supporting mining would be a no-brainer for Zimbabwe. Regulation (including environmental regulation) as a means of “formalizing” the mining industry could be incredibly effective in reducing its social costs and in turn, make the industry even more productive. Zimbabweans have found a way to ward off poverty – their government should listen.
— Elise L. Riley
Sources: Eldris, Info Please
Photo: The Zimbabwe Mail