Gold fight rages on in Penhalonga
THE extraction of gold under controversial circumstances is continuing, with politically-connected elites in Mutare and Mutasa in Manicaland Province partly responsible for granting access to mining pits. This endangers the lives of artisanal miners who are subjected to horrific working conditions, an advocacy group, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), has said.
Zimbabwe has been losing gold and other precious minerals through a well-knit racket of politically-elected 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.
The mine, formerly under Metallon Gold, is now occupied by politically-connected elites like Pedzisai “Scott” Sakupwanya and other senior civil servants. Scott was exposed in the fourth episode of Al Jazeera’s investigative documentary as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s man who has been helping him build a war chest ahead of the 2023 general election. His company Betterbrands, with over 132 claims in Penhalonga alone, currently manages mining and milling operations at Redwing Mine.
Betterbrands also contracts artisanal and small-scale miners to extract and surrender ore to them, which has become a new mining model, as the company seeks to reduce operational costs. According to CNRG, more politically-connected elites are now monopolising access to mining pits in Penhalonga.
“The whole thing at Redwing Mine is now very political. You have two types of miners there. The first one is the one that is operating under Betterbrands. It is not a mining company. They just coordinate artisanal miners in the Redwing premises. “The second group relates to the elite, which includes the security sector and senior civil servants, but all of them linked to the ruling Zanu PF. They have their own pits there which they operate, including some police officers at Penhalonga Police Station. Some of them have got pits there,” Farai Maguwu, CNRG director, told The NewsHawks.
Maguwu said the new mining model at Redwing, that uses artisanal miners, has made it difficult for any audits to accurately track gold production. He said gold mined in Penhalonga is part of the minerals being looted by cartels linked to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which were exposed in Al Jazeera’s Gold Mafia.
“The gold definitely is part of the gold in the Al Jazeera documentary. In the early stages, for people to get a pit there, you had to get a reference letter from Zanu PF. Without a reference letter, you could not get a pit,” Maguwu said.
In a call with Uebert Angel in the documentary, Sakupwanya is seen agreeing to clean money for undercover journalists posing as gangsters. Under the deal, the gangsters were to offload their dirty money which they had declared to Angel, to enable Scott to buy gold and pay them offshore with 10% interest.
Asked by Angel how he can transfer profits to the undercover journalists, Sakupwanya said he can transfer money anywhere in the world. While Scott has been using a similar method to buy gold from artisanal miners, working conditions have been continually deteriorating, with more people dying at Redwing. In January this year, the mine was closed down by the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) after several deaths were recorded.
As previously reported by The NewsHawks, villagers and civil society organisations operating in the area said 26 gold panners died at Redwing Mine in January alone. More panners have been dying since the resumption of operations in March. “That entire enterprise is something that is operating against our environmental laws. There were two deaths that were recorded last week because of the unsafe mining practices whereby, when they go down digging, there are some chemicals that produce very toxic gases.
“So, when people go in there, and they do not have these oxygen tanks, they get intoxicated and die instantly. That is how the two guys died last week. And then, you have the environmental destruction whereby these people operate outside the law. They do not reclaim their pits after they finish mining,” Maguwu said.
Maguwu said close links between cronies controlling mining activity and Mnangagwa have seen a human rights catastrophe on the watch of regulatory entities like Ema.
“A stone’s throw away, you have got Ema from Mutare, and you have got Mutasa Rural District Council (MRDC) to the north. Both of these entities have been rendered useless. It is not that they are not concerned; they are very concerned with what is happening at Redwing. “But, because of the politicisation of mining, the proximity of people like Scott Sakupwanya to the President makes it very difficult and impossible for Ema to act on Scott Sakupwanya,” Maguwu said.