Asithandaneni syndicate of women gold miners in Bubi

Last week (6-11 June 2017), the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZEL) was in Bubi to sensitise stakeholders of its project on artisanal and small scale gold mining. Mainly, the project’s thrust is to promote the participation of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (ASM) in policy making process. The proceedings were fairly shared on twitter using #ASMinBubi hashtag. Below are 8 things that i learnt about ASM gold mining in Bubi district of Matebeleland North province.

Land reform opened opportunities for ASM gold mining

In as much as the land reform process was meant to create better farming opportunities for the indigenous people, ASM gold mining appears to have received an unintentional boost. Prior to the land reform process, Bubi district had 23 wards, 9 of which were old settlements and communal and the rest were commercial farms. Now ASM gold mining activities are found in all the 23 wards of Bubi district.

“I ventured into gold mining after discovering old gold mining shafts at my new plot” Mr Ncube chairperson of Bubi Small Scale Miners Association (BSSMA)

Interestingly, several farmers are using the proceeds of gold to buy cattle. According to Bubi district administrator, Mr T Zivovoi “cattle are traditionally valued as a source of wealth by the Ndebele people. This accounts for the reason why proceeds from gold are invested into cattle rearing business”

ASM association potential anchor for formalisation and growth

ASM gold miners in Bubi came together and formed an association called Bubi Small Scale Miners Association (BSSMA) that became active in 2012. The association has diverse skills and experience. For instance, the Chairman (male) worked with World Vision, an international NGO for 12 years as a bookkeeper, the youth (male) representative is a mechanic by profession, the treasurer (female) is a well-established entrepreneur and the organising secretary (female) is a former teacher. BSSMA has about 288 registered ASM gold miners of which 70 are women. Some of the association’s notable achievements include brokering the release of gold claims by large scale miners such as Duration group of companies. The claims were subsequently allocated to women and youth that had interest to venture into gold mining.

“I started gold mining after I was allocated a gold claim by Bubi small scale miners association” Bongani Ndlovu, a youth miner.

Also, BSSMA successfully negotiated with local government to lower development levies paid by ASM miners per year from $300 to $100. The association managed successfully negotiated for a sponsorship in form of explosives, diesel, hiring of compressors among other working capital requirements. So far 6 miners have benefited from the support.

Scarce US dollars are circulating

The US dollars might have disappeared from circulation in large towns such as Harare. But, in Bubi, a gold producing district, the story is different. Government through Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR) continues to honour its pledge to pay ASM gold miners in cash using US dollars. Thus, government is minimising the risk of gold leakages because ASM gold miners will easily sell their gold to neighbouring countries like South Africa if they face any cash shortages. This accounts for the reason why tobacco farmers are struggling to be paid in cash despite raking in much needed foreign currency. Unlike gold, it is hard to sell tobacco on the black market.

From rags to riches & then to rags

There are numerous stories of poor people whose lives were transformed overnight after hitting a jackpot, that is kilograms of gold. However, there are also stories of a number of artisanal miners that emerged from rags to riches and then to rags due to poor investment choices. It appears that luxury cars are the main primary source of investments. BSSMA appealed for help to educate artisanal miners on viable investment options.

Gold rushes fuel violence, smuggling & environmental damage

Gold rushes are frequent throughout the year in Bubi. People from outside the district normally flock to Bubi during gold rushes and they are known as ma Shurugwi. The name ma Shurugwi stems from the fact that the artisanal miners are so daring and violent when searching for gold. Gold rushes have been given as one of the main reasons why Bubi district has the second highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe. A lot of environmental damages are caused by gold rushes in Bubi. The gold that is produced through gold rushes is barely sold to government. Police are also accused of corrupt practices that abets gold rushes as they seek to be given kickbacks instead of controlling the illegal activities.

Local custom gold millers have been squeezed hard by Chinese investors

Chinese investments into gold milling has brought new technologies which are considered to be more efficient by artisanal and small scale miners. Consequently, local established custom millers are feeling the pinch from stiff competition offered by Chinese investors.

Grassroots participation in policy making weak

There is lack of documentation of data or evidence that can possible help Bubi small scale miners’ association to participate in policy making and implementation processes. For instance, data on beneficiaries of $40 million gold mobilisation support scheme from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is not available. The availability of such data can help the association to better engage with government to ensure that their members are not left out from government opportunities to promote the growth of the artisanal and small scale mining sector. The key asks for the association concerning the reform of the mining legislation are not documented and there appears to be no clear-cut strategy on engagement with national actors.

Social media twitter handles for artisanal and small scale mining districts

The voice of artisanal and small scale miners is barely heard. So, some suggestions have been proffered to share information on ASM in consolidate through social media in a more structured way. To start with, each district will have its own unique twitter hashtag eg #ASMinBubi, #ASMinBindura, #ASMinGwanda and #ASMinZim.