Bianca Leboho recently in MAKAHA, Mudzi District
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has raised a red flag over rampant illegal gold panning in Mashonaland East, citing the alarming extent of land degradation and exposure to hazardous substances for the com- munity. A recent visit to the area revealed that most homesteads in the ward have become open mine pits. Addressing journalists during a media tour of Makaha in Mudzi recently, EMA Mashonaland East education and publicity officer Mr Astas Mabwe said illegal gold mining in Mudzi had reached alarming levels with almost every homestead in Makaha village having open mining pits that exposed children and animals to danger.

“Almost every homestead in the ward has open pits and underground shafts, which are not technically supported and thus expose the illegal miners, animals and other people.

“We urge the community from the ward to acquire the necessary licences, which will legalise their activities while at the same time ensuring the practice of responsible mining, which safeguards the environment and people at large,” said Mr Mabwe.

He added that the use of cyanide, a hazardous chemical that could result in fatalities, was also a cause for concern in Makaha because the miners were ignorant about the danger of the chemical.

Journalists toured some of the homesteads in Makaha, which included an open mine at a village head’s homestead, cyanide tanks at another homestead and open pits and shafts at the majority of homesteads in Makaha.

Residents from Makaha, however, said Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa, who recently toured the area, approved of their mining activities stating that mining was the only means of survival in the dry Mudzi District.

“When Minister Chidhakwa toured this area, he allowed us to continue mining on condition that we follow the right procedure towards the acquisition of the necessary mining claims and licences.

“The minister even promised us that Fidelity Printers would come here to collect the same gold EMA is trying to stop us from mining, and that is exactly what is happening,” said one of the illegal miners. Makaha residents also bemoaned that the companies that were legally mining gold in the area were doing nothing to develop the community.

Makaha village head Mr Sekai Kafuridzo Kaombeka whose home houses a mine that employs more than 20 workers, said with boreholes and dams in the area drying up, the only means of survival for the community was illegal gold pan- ning.

“We rely on gold panning to feed our children, and some of us come to Makaha from surrounding villages because we do not have any other means of survival,” said another illegal miner.

Mr Mabwe said EMA would soon engage the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development in order to map the way forward and ensure that Makaha becomes a legal hub of gold mining, thus safeguarding the environment and people in the process.

Minister Chidhakwa could not be reached on his phone yesterday. Makaha used to be a reserved area until recently when Government opened the area for potential mining invest- ment. The miners get 10 grammes of gold per tonne of soil making the area an extremely viable source of the mineral.

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