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and Patronage: Human rights abuses in Zimbabwe's informal gold-mining
press is currently swamped with reports of the arrests of over 25
000 gold panners in Zimbabwe. Operation Chikorokoza Chapera ("No
Illegal Panning") was launched in November last year, ostensibly
to bring gold panning activities under control. With the implosion
of the economy, this sector had been burgeoning, albeit illegally
in most cases, as poverty-stricken Zimbabweans endlessly struggle
to provide for themselves and their families. Make no mistake, this
loss of livelihood is not an incidental side-effect of the operation,
but it is its very raison d'etre. Just as they did with Operation
Murambatsvina (Clean Out Filth) in 2005, the regime has purposely
set out to destroy this activity, and with it, the lives of those
operation is tantamount to genocide with constructive intent - the
authors knew in advance that their actions would lead to death by
starvation, depriving the poorest of the poor of their only - and
last - means of feeding themselves and their families.
Not only have
livelihoods been eliminated, but lives too. Since the beginning
of January, the press - muzzled as it is - has still been able to
report deaths as disused mines collapse on miners who are tear-gassed
as they hide, seeking to evade arrest and others who have been shot
by a police force bent on serving its despotic leader. By far the
most appalling case is of three miners in Inyathi district who died
from hunger and exhaustion after the police forced them to work
for six days, filling up trenches left open by other gold panners,
beating them and denying them food at the same time. They had been
complaining of dizziness and hunger before they collapsed and died
on December 24th.
Once again it
is the poorest of Zimbabweans who are being victimized and used
as pawns to hide the culpability of the big players, government
ministers and zanupf apologists, who are allowed to continue the
rape of the country's precious resources with impunity.
The facts are
there, but the intention behind these widespread arrests stand veiled
by layers of conspiracy and malice.
so glittering History …
has to look back a decade to understand the regime's haphazard stance
on gold panning, which has left the desperate panners confused and
now threatened with violence and starvation.
The early 90's
saw Zimbabwe reeling under its disastrous Economic Structural Adjustment
Programme (ESAP). With the devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar and
the subsequent high gold price in Zimbabwe dollar terms, more people
began to join the informal gold panning trade as retrenchment caused
by the structural adjustment programme began to bite.
In 1992 gold
panning along the country's streams was legalised and actively encouraged,
provided the panners obtained the necessary permits and deposited
their gold with the Reserve Bank or its agents. The panners were
also required to rehabilitate their operations by backfilling. In
those days environmental policing took place regularly.
The then Mines
Minister, Chris Anderson, said it was high time the panners were
recognised as part of the informal sector. Instead of hunting them
down, he said they should be encouraged to sell their gold to the
reserve bank. He even suggested that small-scale miners should be
paid a higher price than the market rate to prevent them from selling
to the black market. Prospective panners were able to apply for
permits to exploit the gold deposits from their respective councils.
There is a common
belief that small scale gold mining and panning, which mainly took
place on commercial farms, was encouraged by government then not
only to control this informal sector, but also as a means of harassing
white farmers and precipitating conflict with the farmers who later
suffered under the most severe form of intimidation.
From 1999 to
2000, following the violent seizure of land from commercial farmers,
Zimbabwe's mineral production declined between 17%-60% in nine major
commodities with the gold sector hardest hit - three major mines
and several small operations closed and gold production declined
for the first time in 20 years. Output was 22,070 kg, down from
27,666 in 1999. The "land reform programme" did not only affect
agriculture, the mining industry was severely impacted by government's
madness on the farms.
previously accounted for the highest income of the precious foreign
currency earned by Zimbabwe; that was before the ruinous policies
of the Mugabe regime started to decimate our economy. Since 2000
the Zimbabwean government policy towards formal and large scale
mining has been executed with the customary myopic ineptitude expected
from mugabe's cabinet. This sector has been hamstrung by foreign
exchange shortages which have prevented it from buying new equipment
and the supplies essential to this industry. With threatened take
overs and the severe recession in the country Zanupf has successfully
inhibited foreign investment in this vital sector and brought many
previously productive mines to a grinding halt.
The gap in production
left by the near collapse of formal mining was replaced by the precious
metal being brought in from the informal sector, with the Reserve
Bank buying much of its gold from illegal panners. However, the
panners today sell their gold on the black market as the Reserve
Bank pay well under the true market value.
Victims of Human Rights Abuses …
attack on panners has been merciless and indiscriminate. Some of
the victims are the estimated 100 000 gold panners operating legally
since the 1990's, still holding licenses issued then. They have
not escaped the wrath of state agents.
illegal, violent and chaotic land seizures, the country was thrown
into turmoil and an estimated 500 000 commercial farm workers were
forced from their homes. Employment in agriculture was for most
of them vindictively ended by the so called "new farmers" and war
vets, and the vast majority were unable to find any formal employment,
so many were forced to turn to gold panning. They required little
expertise or capital investment to get going.
was their last and sole means of livelihood, and even that has now
been brutally eliminated.
by 2003 the "new famers" came to loggerheads with small scale miners
who were viciously competing for the land which had been redistributed
and in many cases divided into small plots. Environmental surveillance
became increasingly difficult and virtually non-existent with manpower
and funding shortages. Clashes between small scale miners and new
farmers grew alarmingly. There was no clear legal instrument on
which activity held sway, with mining permits sometimes going directly
against land resettlement patterns.
In recent years,
with the almost total collapse of the agricultural sector, those
same new farmers who were allowed to stay on seized land have had
to resort to panning as a means of survival for they have been unable
to effectively produce food with hyperinflation directly hampering
access to seed, fertilizer and fuel.
Many of these
panners were informal traders, whose livelihoods were hit by Operation
Murambatsvina ("Drive out the
trash") in 2005, when the regime sought to punish the urban poor
for voting against them in the recent elections by razing their
houses and trading stands, and banishing them forcibly back to the
rural areas where they could do less political 'damage' .
There are an
estimated 1 million small scale gold miners currently operating
in Zimbabwe. In its sixth year of recession, where mining rather
than farming is now the biggest sector, businesses are running below
30% of capacity and president Mugabe claims the country is a victim
of a Western sabotage campaign. He tries to hoodwink the world and
his grandstanding makes a mockery of the country's beleaguered victims
of zanupf inflicted sabotage - the school children, grandmothers,
educated and uneducated citizens, now all bound by the common malaise
of poverty, inspired and inflicted by the illegal mugabe regime.
has made it quite clear that they place little value on the lives
of Zimbabweans. In 2002 Didymus Mutasa exposed the government's
shocking intention to fulfill their vision of a final solution for
Zimbabwe to effectively halve the population of 12 million. He stated,
"We would be better off with only six million people, with our own
(Shona) people who support the liberation struggle. We don't want
all these extra people". By "extra people" Zimbabwe's leading civil
servant means the people who live in non-Shona-speaking areas, who
in their majority supported the opposition party ready to stymie
the ruling party's obsession with power.
are their intentions?
know the regime actioned Operation Murambatsvina back in 2005 to
punish those voting for the opposition, and to remove them to the
rural areas where they could be better controlled.
has the regime engaged in this persecution of the informal gold-producing
sector? The answer is not at all obvious, and we can but speculate
on how their evil minds work, but a few possibilities do come to
Who stood to lose when the sale of gold no longer all passed through
the Reserve Bank?
Zimbabwean legislation requires that all gold is sold to Fidelity
Printers - an arm of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ); the price
paid for the gold is controlled by the government. The RBZ then
sells the metal on the world market, generating much needed foreign
exchange for itself.
Now in former days, when all the gold used to pass through the
official channels, there was more foreign currency (forex) being
generated. It is common knowledge that the chefs had access to
forex, buying it at the controlled rate, and then selling it in
the market at the much higher parallel rate; alternatively, they
would buy fuel with it, and make a killing by selling their fuel
at market rates.
Official records state that gold production has decreased from
1999 (27,666kg) to the end of 2006 (estimated 12,000kg) by 57%,
but gold producers will tell you that the same amount of the precious
metal is coming out of the ground as before. This means that the
difference has been passing through the informal system in the
last few years. That means less forex for the chefs (top dog zanupf
leaders and their cronies)! If I were a chef, I wouldn't be too
happy, would you? I'd try and put a stop to this informal sector
'leakage'. And maybe that's what they've done!
the fuel profiteers?
These small-scale gold panners were selling their gold to middle-men
either inside or outside the country. The middle-men then traded
the gold for Rand, and with the Rand bought fuel, which was then
sold inside the country at great profit. This fuel is what has
been keeping the Zimbabwean economy afloat; now that whole sector
of the economy - fuel procurement - has been drastically reduced.
Was this part of their plan?
Gideon Gono's involvement?
Gono, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe - and now often
dubbed CEO of Zimbabwe Inc., for his close relationship with Mugabe
and his single-handed control of the economy - must surely have
been involved in this operation. It is inconceivable that he did
not sanction it, and he may even have been the architect of the
scheme. What was his intention, though?Aside
from himself benefiting from access to cheap forex (and who believes
the full page supplements in the newspapers, denying his purchase
of a top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz?), is there anyone he might
have a personal vendetta against? We know that Mnangagwa closely
controlled all the gold panners in the Kwekwe area; and Joyce
Mujuru has certainly been profiting from fuel deals; did Gono
want to get back at them, both of whom were threatening his own
why, by the way, is Gono's name not on the list of the European
Union's travel ban?
of the gold milling industry?
Maybe this wasn't the original intention, but the chefs are now
trying to grab all the resources they can get their hands on.
Do they sense that the days of this evil regime are numbered?
Gold millers are central to the gold industry, as all gold passes
through them for milling; they are now being harassed beyond belief,
arrested on trumped up charges designed to elicit bribes, or even
the forced sale of the companies, we presume.
Punishment of the electorate?
Look at the timing: this operation kicked in just after the Rural
District Council (RDC) elections. Like Murambatsvina, was this
again punishment of the electorate for not voting for the Zanu
PF candidates? Zanu certainly wasn't happy with the results of
the elections - they might have won more wards in total than the
opposition, but they lost in some of their strongholds, and they
certainly didn't win the number of wards that they expected! Was
it considered convenient, once more, to dispatch these "trouble-makers"
to the depths of the rural areas, and to punish them by removing
their last means of livelihood?
know where these people are now: part of the starving urban poor,
or part of the rural poor - also starving. But we can say truthfully
that the regime's actions are tantamount to death sentences -
no other means of livelihood remains to them - these people and
their dependents are going to starve to death..
As briefly mentioned in the introduction, the Mugabe regime had
previously encouraged small-scale mining, as a prelude to getting
people off the farms and into the rural areas. Operation Chikorokoza
Chapera seems to be Part 2 of their plan.Whilst they were mining,
these people - many former farm-workers - were outside the regime's
control. Forcing them back into the rural areas, under the watchful
eye of the compliant village chiefs, control is re-established.
It ties in with punishment of the electorate; it ties in with
Mutasa's aim of reducing the population and so removing the non-compliant
The local police are certainly benefiting from this Operation
Chikorokoza Chapera; many of them have been stealing the gold
confiscated from the panners! Are these the same policemen or
militia who broke down houses and stands in Operation Murambatsvina?
The police benefited there too, confiscating goods for their own
use, or selling them and pocketing the proceeds.
As said previously,
one can only speculate on the intention of the regime in this latest
act of elimination. However, one thing is for sure, and that is
that it was not done from pure motives.
starving - this is the Zanu PF way. It is tantamount to genocide.
They will plead
the excuses of trying to prevent a cholera outbreak, or protecting
the environment - fine! - but this isn't how it should be done,
and they know it.
The world is
not turning a blind eye to human rights abuses: look at Pinochet,
Sadam Hussein, and now our own 'guest' Mengistu!
Chapera is the latest in a succession of human rights abuses by
this regime: misery is piled upon misery. When will it end?
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