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Development or destruction?



ALTHOUGH mining contributes heavily to the country’s development through boosting the gross domestic product, creating employment and building infrastructure which all improve people’s lives, there is a growing sense of awareness within communities as locals ask whether mining in their areas constitutes development or destruction.


Mining activities bring economic benefits to the country and its communities, but can also cause environmental damage, water pollution, land degradation and biodiversity and wildlife devastation.

Bad mining practices and activities are also a major driver of climate change, despite limited information on the extent and nature of these impacts on protected areas in Zimbabwe.

Researchers say illegal gold panning has been the worst enemy of the environment and has become a widespread problem that is found throughout Zimbabwe.

“This problem is mostly due to the need for income, food, employment, asset ownership and decent living conditions,” according to a study, titled Socio-Environmental Damage, a
Looming Facet of Illegal Gold Panning: A Case Study of the Illegal Gold Panners of Gwanda District, Zimbabwe, by Dumile Bhebhe, Andries Jordaan and Olivia Kunguma.

“Zimbabwe is an agricultural and mineral-backed economy and the rural population tries whatever means possible to pursue existence in gold panning as a source of employment.

“It is one of the survival options for them especially for the people that live along rivers, disused mines and dams. Whilst this is a local problem, it is one with very clear regional links as some of the rivers are also taking water to the neighbouring countries.”

A paper co-authored by Martin Magidi and Promise Machingo Hlungwani in the South African Geographical Journal focuses on the impact of mining at Connemara Gold Mine on the environment and rural livelihoods in the communities surrounding the mine.

While they acknowledge that mining is a lucrative business and one of the major drivers of the Zimbabwean economy, they argue that most of the benefits of mining tend to be enjoyed elsewhere and not by host communities.

Researchers roped in the Treadmill of Production and the Resource Curse theories to demonstrate the interplay between capitalism, the environment and local ordinary people’s livelihoods around Connemara Mine, Midlands province.

Data was collected through interviews with local community residents, leaders and stakeholder organisations with interests in mining who were selected through purposive and snowballing techniques.

They collected data over a period of 13 weeks, interviewing 25 respondents in the process and undertaking a series of transect walks across the mined site and its adjacent surroundings.

Researchers concluded that mining caused extensive environmental destruction, creating artificial hills and open pits as well as promoting massive soil erosion, contaminating water and land with dangerous chemicals making them unusable for productive purposes.

 As a result, they conclude that mining at the site did not generate wealth for the local populace but for the mine owners and the state while impoverishing the host communities, destroying their livelihoods in doing so.

They concluded by arguing that mining at Connemara is a perfect example of how the Treadmill of Production works and an evident testimony of the Resource Curse. Mining in Zimbabwe has had a devastating environmental impact, including:

1. Water pollution: Chemicals and heavy metals from mining activities have contaminated rivers, lakes, and groundwater, affecting aquatic life and human health.

2. Soil erosion and land degradation: Mining has led to deforestation, habitat destruction, and soil degradation, causing soil erosion and loss of fertile land.

3. Air pollution: Mining activities release dust, particulate matter, and toxic gases into the air, contributing to respiratory problems and other health issues.

4. Destruction of ecosystems: Mining has resulted in the destruction of natural habitats, leading to the loss of biodiversity and extinction of endemic species.

5. Displacement of communities: Mining activities have forced communities to relocate, disrupting their livelihoods, culture, and way of life.

6. Health problems: Exposure to toxic chemicals and heavy metals has led to health problems, including respiratory diseases, cancer, and birth defects.

7. Climate change: Mining contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate change and its associated impacts.

8. Illegal mining: Unregulated artisanal mining has led to further environmental degradation and social problems.

9. Lack of rehabilitation: Abandoned mines have not been rehabilitated, leaving behind a legacy of environmental damage.

10. Inadequate regulations: Weak regulations and enforcement have allowed mining companies to prioritize profits over environmental and social responsibility.

The environmental impact of mining in Zimbabwe is a pressing concern that requires urgent attention and action from the government, mining companies, and local communities to mitigate and restore the damage done.

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