Break Durban Mine dead­lock

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

THE week-long stand­off be­tween mine man­age­ment at Durban Mine in Bubi Dis­trict and some 300 gold pan­ners reads like a hostage movie. Law en­force­ment agents see a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter that can lead to death or in­jury. They have an obli­ga­tion to in­ter­vene to fore­stall that catas­tro­phe but at the same time, can­not sim­ply move in to res­cue the hostages lest they can en­dan­ger the lives of the cap­tives. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the Durban Mine case and nor­mal hostage crises is that the hostage taker is ac­tu­ally the hostage who pos­sesses dan­ger­ous weapons ready to hurt any­one try­ing to res­cue him.

The drama started on Mon­day last week when a lo­cal busi­ness­man with­drew his lad­der that had been used by the 500 pan­ners to go down the mine to seek the yel­low me­tal. Word had reached him that po­lice were go­ing to move in to ar­rest the ar­ti­sanal min­ers. Fear­ing his own ar­rest, the un­named busi­ness­man re­moved the lad­der, leav­ing his 500 clients with­out a way out.

Mata­bele­land North po­lice, who had res­cued some 130 men by Fri­day, have been help­less in their ef­forts to save 300 pan­ners who re­main holed up 120m un­der­ground. With­out food sup­plies and in their own world in the depths, the min­ers are fear­ful that if they stepped out, they would be im­me­di­ately ar­rested. Po­lice have sent res­cued pan­ners down to per­suade their col­leagues to sur­face with no risk of ar­rest, but they have stood their ground, threat­en­ing to kill the emis­saries.

A team from the Zim­babwe Min­ing Fed­er­a­tion (ZMF) was at the mine on Satur­day to as­sess the un­fold­ing drama and re­ported hear­ing ex­plo­sions rock­ing the belly of the earth as the cadres worked.

ZMF spokesper­son Mr Dos­man Mangisi said on Mon­day:

“Al­though most of the min­ers had va­cated the mine, we were told that some of the il­le­gal pan­ners were still un­der­ground. We could hear sounds of ex­plo­sives be­ing blasted from un­der­ground. The act­ing mine man­ager Mr Onias Shanyu­rai said the re­main­ing pan­ners were at the fourth level of the mine, which is more than 120 me­tres un­der­ground.

“Ini­tially the man­age­ment and the po­lice couldn’t go un­der­ground to ar­rest them be­cause some of them had dan­ger­ous weapons such as ma­chetes and they were threat­en­ing to harm any­body dis­turb­ing them. They later started com­ing out in small groups and some of them left with gold ore.”

Al­though we don’t think they have a chal­lenge with wa­ter sup­ply as the liq­uid typ­i­cally flows in abun­dance in un­der­ground mines, we are afraid that soon the pan­ners will run out of food. If the stand­off con­tin­ues, they might be­gin wast­ing away and later pos­si­bly starv­ing to death.

Be­fore that hap­pens the blast­ing that is tak­ing place may com­pro­mise the in­tegrity of the sup­port struc­tures and the mine can en­tomb the 300 to cre­ate a mass grave.

We are not pre­pared to lose lives at Durban Mine. We thus ap­peal to au­thor­i­ties to take ev­ery ac­tion pos­si­ble to break that dead­lock with­out any loss of life.

In say­ing this we are not un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the unique chal­lenge that the peo­ple who must be res­cued pose to those des­per­ate to save them. As noted ear­lier, they have threat­ened to kill even their col­leagues who sur­faced and were be­ing used as in­ter­me­di­aries.

In ad­di­tion, we are not un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the spa­tial chal­lenge that any res­cue ef­fort will face in the con­fines of the shaft and the tun­nels un­der­ground. Res­cuers will not be flexible enough to move around if the pan­ners de­cide to fight. This would not be a prob­lem if the stand­off was on the sur­face.

Nonethe­less, we sug­gest that more teams that the min­ers can trust be sent un­der­ground to con­tinue per­suad­ing them to come out. We are hope­ful that more of this can help.

One big, yet re­cur­ring les­son we learn from the Durban Mine stand­off is the dif­fi­culty posed by the poi­soned re­la­tion­ship that ex­ists be­tween pan­ners and law en­force­ment agents. Pan­ners don’t trust the po­lice even when they gen­uinely want to save them like in the case in point.

Early this month, Re­serve Bank of Zim­babwe Gov­er­nor Dr John Man­gudya said gold pan­ning must be de­crim­i­nalised.

“We said we should not ar­rest ar­ti­sanal gold min­ers but I am in­formed that they are be­ing ar­rested,” he said in Zvisha­vane. “I think we need to al­low ar­ti­sanal min­ers to mine their gold and take it to Fi­delity Print­ers so that we gen­er­ate more for­eign cur­rency and im­port fuel, raw ma­te­ri­als and other ne­ces­si­ties. Our laws are too many and ar­chaic. We need to change that and adopt laws that will help us chart a new nar­ra­tive for the econ­omy. I am very se­ri­ous about this mat­ter be­cause if we do not stop the ar­rest of ar­ti­sanal min­ers, we do not har­vest gold and re­mem­ber there is noth­ing to har­vest from the fields. We need to take hard, bold de­ci­sions to move the econ­omy for­ward.”

His views are im­por­tant in not only re­mov­ing the tra­di­tional con­flict be­tween pan­ners and the po­lice but also in har­ness­ing as much gold as pos­si­ble to con­trib­ute to the turn­around of the econ­omy. Of course the pan­ning must be reg­u­lated for en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

In the big­ger scheme of things, Dr Man­gudya’s po­si­tion makes sense. The Durban Mine sit­u­a­tion may not be cov­ered by his pro­posal be­cause the 300 men tres­passed into some­one else’s claim and took, rather at­tempted to take his gold, two po­ten­tial crimes. How­ever, its del­i­cate na­ture de­mands it be han­dled dif­fer­ently.

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