Min­ing sec­tor should be made safer

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion/national News -

FA­TAL ac­ci­dent af­ter fa­tal ac­ci­dent has been oc­cur­ring in the in­for­mal min­ing sec­tor, re­sult­ing in the loss of lives of a large num­ber of peo­ple in the past 10 years in var­i­ous parts of Zim­babwe.

Hardly a month passes with­out one or more of the coun­try’s print me­dia pub­lish­ing a story about a tragedy hav­ing oc­curred at one or other of Zim­babwe’s nu­mer­ous of­fi­cially aban­doned mines.

Sim­i­lar tragedies oc­cur also in neigh­bour­ing South Africa where lit­er­ally scores of Zim­bab­weans per­ish in dis­used mines, par­tic­u­larly on the Reef al­most ev­ery month.

Zim­bab­wean law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties do not seem to be do­ing much, if any­thing at all, about this highly dis­turb­ing devel­op­ment, not in South Africa, of course, but within their own ad­min­is­tra­tive ter­ri­tory.

Zim­babwe is awash with a wide va­ri­ety of min­er­als as well as aban­doned min­ing sites and dumps.

Mean­while, the coun­try’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is alarm­ingly high. Ad­mit­tedly the na­tional econ­omy has taken a nose-dive.

Zim­babwe’s na­tional econ­omy com­prises mainly the agri­cul­tural and the min­ing sec­tors. The agri­cul­tural sec­tor is al­ways af­fected, usu­ally neg­a­tively, by weather con­di­tions.

Droughts have also had ad­verse ef­fects on the na­tional econ­omy. That has left the min­ing sec­tor as Zim­babwe’s na­tional eco­nomic main­stay.

And the main min­eral sought is gold be­cause it pays well and is prob­a­bly the easi­est to sell. It is be­cause of those fac­tors that a very large num­ber of young adult men have taken to gold-pan­ning in rivers and wher­ever else they think that min­eral can be found. The coun­try has a min­istry whose re­spon­si­bil­ity is the min­ing sec­tor.

Its man­date is to leg­is­late for that par­tic­u­lar sec­tor: for the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of mines, their min­er­als, their lo­ca­tion and ac­ces­si­bil­ity, their own­er­ship, mode of oper­a­tion in­clud­ing safety and se­cu­rity mea­sures, the way they mar­ket their prod­ucts, and they dis­pose their waste which may be solid, gaseous and or liq­uid.

It is one of that min­istry’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to mon­i­tor dis­used mines. Work­ing with the Zim­babwe Repub­lic Po­lice (ZRP) and the min­istry re­spon­si­ble for Zim­babwe’s en­vi­ron­ment, they mon­i­tor dis­used or aban­doned mines to en­sure that unau­tho­rised ac­cess is not made by ir­re­spon­si­ble mem­bers of the pub­lic.

That is done in case there are dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals and grounds in the mines’ vicin­ity or in­side it proper. The pub­lic has to be pro­tected vir­tu­ally against it­self.

In ad­di­tion to all this, there should also be laws to pro­tect Zim­babwe’s phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment from wan­ton de­struc­tion by un­mon­i­tored and un­reg­is­tered min­ers.

A tour of Kwekwe town and its en­vi­rons shows why this has to be done. That lo­cal­ity is now scarred, ruined and dev­as­tated by gold pan­ners. It is not at all un­der­stand­able why the Kwekwe mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties let that mas­sive de­struc­tion of their land to oc­cur, and right un­der their noses. Could it be that they were, them­selves, re­spon­si­ble for that eco­log­i­cal mess?

Sim­i­lar de­struc­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment has taken place in sev­eral other places some of which are un­der ru­ral dis­trict coun­cils.

The gen­eral im­pres­sion cre­ated by all this is that the min­ing sec­tor in Zim­babwe is rel­a­tively out of con­trol, and thus any­one can en­ter into any dis­used mine and carry out min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties with­out any safety mea­sures what­so­ever.

The im­me­di­ate ex­pla­na­tion about that sit­u­a­tion is that all that is caused by the coun­try’s high un­em­ploy­ment level.

While we should em­pha­sise that is only an ex­pla­na­tion and not an ex­cuse, we has­ten to add that the rel­e­vant min­istry should have ap­pro­pri­ate per­son­nel in ev­ery dis­trict to mon­i­tor ev­ery min­ing ac­tiv­ity, its law­ful­ness, its safety to the rel­e­vant com­mu­nity, its ad­her­ence to se­cu­rity mea­sures in con­nec­tion with the use and stor­age of its chem­i­cals and equip­ment, its op­er­a­tions and its food, bev­er­ages, health prac­tices, its means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion as well as its mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

The so­cial se­cu­rity of those in­volved, in­clud­ing their ac­com­mo­da­tion and med­i­cal ser­vices re­quire­ments need to be closely mon­i­tored as well lest dis­ease epi­demics break out and af­fect the whole coun­try.

The Min­istry of Mines and Min­ing Devel­op­ment should be work­ing most closely with that of En­vi­ron­ment and, of course, that of Home Af­fairs. All these min­istries should adopt a pro-ac­tive as op­posed to a re­ac­tive ap­proach.

The best way to deal with un­em­ploy­ment is to make each vil­lage eco­nom­i­cally pro­duc­tive by the use of lo­cal re­sources. Lo­cal hu­man re­sources can be trained to gen­er­ate lo­cal trans­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices, and to make us­able and use­ful lo­cal prod­ucts some which may be ex­ported to nearby lo­cal­i­ties.

Well or­gan­ised min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, closely su­per­vised by the rel­e­vant min­istries, can be launched not only for gold, but even for gravel. Vil­lage heads, head­men and chiefs can be guided to spear­head such min­ing op­er­a­tions in their re­spec­tive ar­eas.

That can dras­ti­cally re­duce the high in­ci­dence of min­ing ac­ci­dents in the coun­try and at the same time sig­nif­i­cantly ben­e­fit the com­mu­ni­ties in ac­cor­dance with the Gov­ern­ment’s com­mu­nity share­hold­ing pol­icy.

We should bear in mind the fact that a hu­man be­ing’s life is gen­er­ally, if not al­ways, more valu­able than the min­er­als an av­er­age per­son can ex­tract from the ground at any given time.

A 25-year-old man may, for ex­am­ple, be crushed to death by a boul­der from which that man could have got gold worth $500. If he had lived for at least an­other 25 years, he could have un­doubt­edly raised more than $500.

In ad­di­tion to which, he would have given nu­mer­ous in­valu­able ser­vices to his fam­ily, to say noth­ing about the price­less love he would have given or shown to his fam­ily, friends and com­mu­nity.

The plea­sure one nor­mal hu­man be­ing de­rives from merely see­ing an­other liv­ing hu­man be­ing is im­mea­sur­able al­though it is gen­er­ally un­con­sciously felt and un­pro­nounced. The loss of hu­man lives whether it oc­curs in a for­eign land, thou­sands of kilo­me­tres away, brings sad­ness to ev­ery nor­mal sur­viv­ing per­son, more so if it is in one’s home, one’s com­mu­nity or one’s coun­try.

Villagers drain water from a mine shaft in search of trapped min­ers in Iny­athi in this file photo. Fa­tal ac­ci­dent af­ter fa­tal ac­ci­dent has been oc­cur­ring in the in­for­mal min­ing sec­tor, re­sult­ing in the loss of lives of a large num­ber of peo­ple in the past few years in var­i­ous parts of Zim­babwe

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