CONTROVERSIAL mining activity is continuing in Penhalonga, Manicaland province, with an audit by a governance watchdog, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), showing a 500% surge in illegal hammer mills and cyanidation tanks between 2021 and 2023, The NewsHawks has learnt.
Zimbabwe has been losing gold and other precious minerals through a well-knit racket of political elites bleeding the country of revenue and deepening the socio-economic woes.
Some of the gold is being extracted from Redwing Mine in Penhalonga, in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands.
Findings in an environmental survey conducted by CRD indicate a surge in the establishment of illegal hammer mills and cyanidation tanks from 129 hammer mills and six cyanidation tanks in October 2021 to 774 illegal hammer mills and 28 cyanidation tanks by 31 December 2023.
At least 2 000 bags and seven kilogrammes of ore are also leaving Redwing Mine daily to outside hammer mills and cyanidation sites daily to the parallel market, according to CRD.
“We have observed a growing network of local and foreign gold buyers spreading their operations in different suburbs of Mutare. Gold from these networks is being smuggled to international destinations through Mozambique,” CRD said.
Some of the gold processing plants have been established on farms, streams, residential areas, schools and timber estates in Penhalonga and surrounding communities, exposing citizens to worst forms of chemical contamination, noise pollution and hazardous waste dumping that have rendered water from affected rivers unusable.
For instance, as reported by The NewsHawks, mining activity by Better Brands Mining Ltd at Redwing Mine and surrounding areas in Manicaland is leaving a trail of destruction, with hazardous chemicals being deposited into Penhalonga’s Lake Alexander which supplies over 25% of the city of Mutare’s drinking water, sparking fears of a health hazard.
The company, which operates on more than 132 mining claims in Penhalonga alone, has been under fire for the pollution of the lake and other surrounding water bodies.
The gold processing plants are illegally accessing gold ore from porous mining activities by Better Brands. These processing plants cannot account to the government for the gold that they are processing because they are not registered.
The miners transport their ore to the company’s milling facility, where mercury is used to extract gold from ore, while others send it to private millers, who dump the toxic waste into surrounding rivers and streams.
According to CRD, the government has not shown willingness to plug the porous mining activity at Redwing Mine.
“They have been carrying out open pit mining. The gold they get is supposed to be going through Redwing, but they have created illegal hammer mills where gold from the mine is processed to flout taxation systems,” CRD director James Mupfumi told The NewsHawks.
“You will now have a political structure where senior politicians have pits within Redwing. The same people are also setting up the illegal hammer mills. The gold from the mine which is extracted from the mine is not accounted for. The mining operation has been captured to feed the black market, which is controlled through illegal hammer mills and cyanidation tanks. This is why they keep on opening the mine.”
In 2021, CRD submitted a report to the Manicaland provincial mining office and other regulatory authorities raising concern over the establishment of 129 illegal hammer mills and cyanidation sites that were dumping hazardous substances such as mercury and cyanide on the environment.
This saw a task force comprising of Mutasa Rural District Council (MRDC), the Environmental Management Authority (Ema), ministry of Mines and Zimbabwe Republic Police embarking on an operation to clamp down on illegal mining activities in Penhalonga.
The operation led to the suspension of surface mining activities at Redwing Mine by the Joint Operations Command (Joc). Porous surface mining activities at Redwing are feeding gold ore to illegal mining sites that have mushroomed around Redwing Mine.
However, a month after the submission, hazardous surface mining operations resumed at Redwing Mine, with the number of illegal hammer mills surging to 532 in January 2023.
“The majority of these mining sites are operating illegally and those with documents are non-compliant with their environmental impact assessments (EIA). It is alarming to note that all these sites are not mining gold at their claims. They are receiving and processing stolen gold ore from Redwing Mine day and night.
“Workers and residents of Penhalonga alike have accused Better Brands management in the presence of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security for operating several illegal hammer mills outside Redwing as one of the major reasons for laxity of security at Redwing Mine.”