Africa’s Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Amidst COVID-19

The IANRA and SARW jointly hosted an African-wide webinar on Africa’s artisanal and small-scall mining amidst COVID-19, forming part of the efforts contributing to sustainable solution formulation to the long-standing challenges of ASM in Africa. There was a total of 30 participants in the webinar representative of five African countries; South Africa, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The panellists included Nyaradzo Mutonhori from the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association in Zimbabwe; Berns Komba Lebbie from the Network Movement for Justice and Development organisation in Sierra Leone; Yves Bawa, the Country Director at PACT in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Amani Mustafa Mhinda from the Open Society for East Africa in Tanzania; Felix Ngosa from Norwegian Church Aid in Zambia and Prof. Nellie Mutemeri from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa; facilitated by Nsamo Musonda from Care for Nature in Zambia. Nyaradzo Mutonhori – Zimbabwe Commencing the dialogue was Nyaradzo Mutonhori presenting on the current realities of artisanal small-scale mining in Zimbabwe. Mutonhori articulated that the ASM sector in Zimbabwe currently contributes to output across different value chains in the chrome, gemstones, and gold sectors amongst others. About 63% of the gold produced in 2019 was from the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, indicative of its size and significance in the country. In the third quarter of 2019, the sector produced 2480 tons of gold, with a drastic reduction of approximately 1000 tons as only 1462 tons of gold were produced in 2020. This difference in production can be attributed to COVID-19 and some of the inherent challenges being faced by ASM miners in Zimbabwe. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, African governments, Zimbabwe included, enacted strict lockdown regulations. Due to the strict travel regulations imposed, ASM miners were operating with skeletal staff, consequently leading to the reduction in production. Further, they were delayed payments by Fidelity Printers and Refineries who are the main gold-buyer in Zimbabwe. A chain reaction triggered by the dollar crisis innate in the country. This set-in motion a negative chain of operations in procurement and operations as it restricted their ability to hire machinery and equipment. Also, the limited working hours due to COVID-19 lockdown regulations largely impacted ASM miners who tend to operate 24hours daily. As a result, Mutonhori added that the negative effects of the pandemic had led to a rise in the levels of criminality in the ASM sector. There was a spike in parallel markets and illicit gold trade. The female miners were forced to relocate back to their residential homes as most of the mines were targeted 4 by criminal elements, violence and rise of dangerous machete gangs. Worsening the effect of the pandemic, the Ministry of Mines in Zimbabwe has been slow in processing licenses, resulting in a number of the artisanal miners inadvertently operating illegally. All these factors contributed to the drastic decline in gold production. In addition, due to the environmental degradation effect triggered by this sector, she reiterated the need for the immaculate implementation of practical solutions in this sector. These include finding alternatives to the use of Mercury for one and increasing environmental management practices to reduce future costs for the government. Further, to aid this agenda, Mutonhori predicted that the formalisation of ASM will potentially play a key role as it will foster environmental compliance. It is widely understood that when carrying out development projects, perceptions matter as they affect agency. In Zimbabwe, there is a general perception that ASM is an alternative economic livelihood activity when in actuality, it is a widespread economic activity that is undertaken by different groups with a range of different educational levels and economic backgrounds and it is also a lucrative sector. Wrongly perceiving ASM as only a ‘side-hustle’ has negatively impacted the nature and agency of policy recommendations brought up in terms of formalising the sector. Concluding, Mutonhori elaborated that there is increasing need for civil society in Zimbabwe to advocate for an ASM mining license that is holistic in terms of support, a license that is financially inclusive, provides healthcare services and sexual reproductive health facilities on-site.