THE eviction of small-scale miners from government-owned Sandawana Mine undermines labour rights and is a wake-up call for artisanal miners to mobilise smooth litigation processes should there be a breach of agreement, organisations representing mine workers have said.
Early this month, over 2 000 miners were evicted from Sandawana Mine, owned by the government through the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC).
The Mberengwa mine, known to produce diamonds and other gemstones, has been subject to a lithium rush since November 2022, which has attracted small-scale miners.
According to miners, Sandawana Mine had promised in principle to buy their lithium ore, but left them empty-handed without compensation after forced evictions this month.
Organisations representing mine workers say the forced evictions undermine labour rights.
“If there was an agreement, it is an affair whereby the mining company is taking advantage of poor artisanal small-scale miners, in the sense that they left them to do the digging, extraction and so forth, only to come later telling them to stop. What does that mean?
“It would have been very easy had they given them (the artisanal miners) the order not to mine. In terms of labour, it is an unfair labour practice – working people without giving them any remuneration,” said Cosmas Sunguro, president of the Zimbabwe Allied Diamond Workers’ Union (Zidawu), an organisation that represents diamond and other mine workers.
Sunguro said while the evictions are largely unfair, the government has been taking advantage of disjointed smallholder miners.
“It is unfair on the side of the workers as they have not been organised. The miners are informally recognised, hence at times, since they do not have a grouping, they cannot have a legal case against the mine. This is a wake-up call that small-scale miners need to be formalised.
“Apart from the lithium, they can contribute almost 50% mineral production in Zimbabwe, especially when you look at gold, there is no two ways about that. I think this was a deliberate ploy to harvest from where they did not plant,” Sunguro said.
He said while lithium has been declared a strategic mineral, there is a need to ensure that smallholder miners also have rights of ownership to the mineral. “I think it would have been proper that at least they sell the lithium to the mine, then a certain amount of the proceeds be channelled towards land rehabilitation,” Sunguro said.
“Let us formalise and give artisanal miners opportunities and access to strategic minerals. In other countries like Sierra Leone and others, we have seen gold and minerals being owned by small-scale miners as well.”
Mining and energy law expert Darlington Chidarara says there is a need for formalisation of artisanal mining. He said while Zimbabwe is mining lithium, a just transition mineral, there is need for applying principles of a just energy transition.
“This means that the minerals should benefit the people as they are affected by the decisions,” he said.
“We have always been advocating for the formalisation of artisanal mining. We are talking about the just transition. Lithium is a just transition mineral. How about we say we use principles that: do not worsen poverty, do not exclude those who are marginalised and those that do not entrench people in poverty.
“Artisanal miners are marginalised. We can see that the miners are being excluded by the evictions.”
Mining companies are generally notorious for violating the labour rights of marginalised workers.
For instance, granite mining companies have been violating labour rights and effecting forced evictions in the Mutoko and Mt Darwin areas, creating a human rights catastrophe, which has seen people lose farming land while failing to benefit from the resource.
According to a report titled From Mountains of Hope to Anthills of Despair, by mining law experts James Tsabora and Darlington Chidarara most foreign-owned companies mining granite in Zimbabwe have been offering local employees short-term contracts only, while in some instances, the workers are not given employment contracts at all.