ZONDI Mtetwa has been an artisanal gold miner for 15 years. The father of two, who works at a gold claim at Romack on the outskirts of Gweru, said he has no time-off due to the nature of his job.
Mtetwa said he wishes to be vaccinated against Covid-19, but the long queues at clinics and hospitals have hindered him from getting the jabs.
“As an artisanal gold miner, I work 24/7 and so the time to be in those slow long queues at Covid-19 vaccination centres in the city has seen me failing to be vaccinated,” Mtetwa told The NewsHawks.
Mtetwa’s plight is similar to thousands of artisanal and small-scale miners who work along the mineral-rich Great Dyke in the Midlands province. Confederation of Zimbabwe Miners president Rangani Chauke said although miners were encouraged to enforce Covid-19 regulations at their mining sites, the majority of them were lagging behind in accessing vaccination facilities.
Chauke said the Midlands province was home to more mining activities than any other area in the country, adding government needed to roll-out mobile vaccination clinics at mining sites in the region.
“Artisanal and small-scale miners contribute a lot to the country’s economy particularly those in the gold sector. This group therefore should be treated as a special group and there is need for government to set up Covid-19 mobile vaccination clinics at mining sites,” Chauke said.
He said although the mining body was doing its best to raise Covid-19 awareness and the need to observe coronavirus regulations among artisanal and small-scale miners, the group was facing hurdles in accessing the vaccines.
Chauke said mobile clinics at mining sites will ensure that production in the sector is not affected as miners will not spend long hours in queues at vaccination centres.
“If we are to compare with other minerals and sectors in mining, gold is the fastest foreign currency earner and over the years artisanal and small-scale miners have accounted for more than 60% of the total gold delivered to Fidelity Printers and Refiners.
“In order for us not to disrupt production in this essential sector, there is need for government’s support in making sure that artisanal and small-scale miners easily access Covid-19 vaccination facilities,” he said.
Although Midlands provincial medical director Mary Muchekeza was not readily available to comment on the request by miners, last month the health boss said there was a need to create “synergies in resource mobilisation” to combat the spread of the pandemic.
Over the months, the Midlands has generally witnessed an increase in the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus. The province has so far recorded more than 9 000 cases and over 370 deaths from the pandemic.
Last month, traditional leaders from Matabeleland urged the government to deploy mobile vaccination teams in rural areas, saying vaccination centres could not be easily accessed by the rural folk. Nearly two million Zimbabweans out of a population of 14 million have received their first jabs with over one million having received their second inoculation.
The country needs to vaccinate at least 60% of the population to achieve herd immunity by December 2021.