ARTISANAL miners are challenging the government to extend the Covid-19 vaccination programme to outlying areas where thousands of people make a living through gold panning.
Several players in the gold mining sector have revealed that it is unrealistic to expect informal miners to visit healthcare facilities for vaccination.
A miner in Pfungwe in Mashonaland East province, Takunda Takaendesa Mamhungo, said mining was declared an essential service during the national lockdown restrictions last year hence miners, including artisanal miners, should be vaccinated.
Mamhungo said: “Artisanal miners had a few challenges during national lockdown restrictions last year as there was a reprieve to continue working as essential services. The only significant challenge was flow of transport from mines to mills. Currently, the miners who rely on exports are failing to transport their products.”
Mamhungo said delays in extending vaccination to mining areas will affect the industry.
‘‘Although local clinics are offering the vaccine, it is voluntary. Not many can afford to go to town to be vaccinated so we move on with life under the Covid-19 pandemic. We urge the government to move fast with their vaccine rollout to remote areas.
“We know mining will always be an essential part of economic growth and a tool that will move the National Development Strategy 1,” he said.
Chiedza Chipangura, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Women’s Federation in Mashonaland West, said the closure of ministry of Mines offices during the Covid-19 lockdown hampered the operations of women miners.
“The majority of women want to get their documents according to the law but, with Covid-19 restrictions, the processing of legal mining documents became slower than before. The approval of mining licences was made worse by Covid-19. Ministry officials couldn’t come to conduct ground verification, which is a vital process in mining application,” Chipangura said.
“It made our situation worse as women miners as the backlog of mines licensing increased…We had problems before Covid-19 and it got worse during lockdown restrictions. It became a nightmare for women miners.”
Chipangura called for a speedy rollout of the vaccination programe in mining areas.
“We urge the government to roll out the vaccines in mining hotspots where the miners are based. They work underground and have no time to travel to health facilities and be vaccinated,” she said.
Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation president Wellington Takavarasha concurred that miners have not been spared by the Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted operations globally.
“We have tried to educate our membership in the artisanal sector as it was an essential services during national lockdown. Some of them stopped operations as they did not acquire exemption letters to operate.
“Cash shortages in the economic sector impacted negatively on miners operations,” Takavarasha said.
He said Operation Chikorokoza Chapera, launched by the government on 24 January 2020, had a knock-on effect on artisanal miners, as many of them were arrested for operating illegally.
He said the majority of artisanal miners are not registered, forcing them to play catch and mouse with law enforcement agents.
‘‘About 84% (at least 1.5 million) of those in the mining sector operate illegally. These are informal and this has a huge blow if they are forced to be on the run by state security agencies yet we want to help out on Covid-19 awareness.”
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