In the past few years, artisanal miners have produced more gold than conglomerates, making their input in the national economy critical.
The Battlefields national disaster has shone light on the risks facing artisanal gold miners as they search for the precious stone.
The disaster of such a magnitude, calls for an urgent address of several challenges that multitudes of artisanal miners face daily.
The horrific accident involving an estimated 70 miners struck last Tuesday and has seen 24 bodies recovered, while eight lucky miners were rescued alive.
For a long time, the story of artisanal mining has been characterised by unorthodox workmanship, makeshift and or obsolete equipment, subsistence and illegality.
Yet the same artisanal miners have in the past five years emerged the cornerstone of gold production where they have delivered more gold than conglomerates.
Perceived as the new economy drivers, the small-scale gold miners last year hit a 47 percent gold production output, probably the highest in recent times, with a projected similar performance for this year.
Those figures speak undoubtedly to a growing sector that contributes significantly to the growth of the country’s economy. Such a positive narrative calls for the Government to give the necessary support to the sector, to protect and sustain it. Of immediate concern is the need to address safety and security issues in artisanal mining to prevent further loss of life.
Government and other stakeholders need to invest in solid infrastructure and sustainable management systems. The miners are critical stakeholders in the industry and it is high time the Government helps them do the right things, if further disasters of this kind are to be averted.
That narrative should be matched with modern mining mechanisation, which increases efficiency and production, while minimising injuries and loss of life and limb.
This calls for mandatory adequate close monitoring of artisanal operations and a regulatory enforcement by the Government to ensure that small-scale miners are not subjected to death traps.
We hear that the Environmental Management Agency visited the Battlefields disaster site about two weeks before the accident and made certain recommendations and observations, which sadly were not enforced before disaster struck.
Lives would have been saved had the relevant stakeholders effected recommendations by EMA to upgrade safety aspects of the dotted shafts, which were later flooded, killing some of the miners.
It becomes clear that there has not been regular monitoring and enforcement of existing mining activities.
We believe the challenges that artisanal miners currently face are too many for the Government to address in a stroke of a pen. It needs systematic, sustained and sustainable.
It therefore, remains critical to support such a sector, whose contribution to the growth of the economy is essential.