BETTER Brands Jewellery, a company owned by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ally Pedzisai “Scott” Sakupwanya has reneged on its pledge made last week to suspend operations at Redwing Mine in Penhalonga, Manicaland, over the increasing number of illegal miners who are dying at the plant while extracting gold.
Villagers and civil society organisations operating in the area say 26 gold panners have died at the mine this month alone.
In a letter dated 20 January 2023, Better Brands’ mine manager Cuthbert Chitima announced to stakeholders that the company was suspending all surface mining operations due to increased deaths of the illegal miners and severe land degradation until the matters were resolved.
“Better Brands mining hereby advises its valued stakeholders that all surface mining operations shall be suspended with immediate effect; mainly due to concerns in the increased number of fatalities, environmental degradation and constrained access controls,” Chitima announced.
“Better Brands Mining shall take this opportunity to restructure and rehabilitate the mining field in preparation for resumption of surface and underground mining operations.
“We shall be advising on progress. Your cooperation to this regard will be greatly appreciated,” reads part of the letter.
The development had come few days after community-based organisations working in the area led by the Centre for Research and Development (CRD) made calls for operations at the mine to be stopped due to an increase of deaths of miners that had reached 100 from the beginning of last year.
However, investigations by The NewsHawks revealed that while on paper Better
Brands had announced that it had stopped operations in its vast fields, it was business as usual at the mine throughout the week.
Artisanal miners were still digging for gold ore in over 2 000 pits spread over the Redwing fields while about 500 hammer mill operators who process the gold without regularisation by the Mines ministry are still running.
Farai Maguwu, the Centre for Natural Resources and Governance director, told The NewsHawks that his organisation had also discovered that operations at the mine did not stop despite the company’s letter which announced the suspension of surface gold mining.
“No they haven’t stopped, let alone slowed down operations. It’s business as usual,” he said. Asked to respond on what could have motivated the company to make an announcement they would disregard, Maguwu said: “They were reacting to public concerns about the shocking number of fatalities at the mine. For instance, our sources say at least 25 people died at Redwing from 1 January to 23 January 2023.
“I understand some in government are also concerned with the carnage, but always failing to take corrective measures due to political interference.”
Chitima did not respond to questions sent to him by The NewsHawks on Wednesday through WhatsApp although the messages were delivered. He was also not responding to calls.
CRD director James Mupfumi said the concrete solution to solve the current crisis at Redwing is for the government to cancel the non-tributary agreement granted to Sakupwanya’s Bettter Brands because they awarded it to a firm without capacity to resuscitate underground mining operations at Redwing.
“Surface mining is not recommended at Redwing because there are tunnels already left by previous mining operations and they (Better Brands) can’t open new pits on top of tunnels and expect the ground to remain stable,” he said.
“Secondly, government has an obligation to investigate these deaths and hold BB (Better Brands) accountable by compensating relatives of deceased people. They must also be forced to rehabilitate the environment.
“If Ema (Environmental Management Agency) and the police do not effect the ban, BB will continue to receive ore from miners because the gold pits are open to everyone. BB will peg a pit for you to dig in at Redwing Mine and ask for a share of the gold when your pit starts producing.
“They don’t care how you extract the mineral. They are exploiting desparation among youths to lure them to die in the pits for a song. As I am speaking to you, I have just been informed of another victim who has fallen into one of the pits that caved in”, he said.
Speaking at a CRD Press conference last week, Penhalonga Youth Development Trust director Clinton Masanga said that gold leakages at Redwing Mine had reached levels where there are now more than 522 illegal gold hammer mills and 10 cynidation sites on the steep slopes and river valleys of Penhalonga, processing an estimated seven kilogrammes of gold on a daily basis.
“It is alarming to note that all these processing sites are not mining gold at their claims. They receive stolen gold ore from Redwing Mine day and night.
“Sources at Redwing alleged that mine officers were operating illegal hammer mills outside Redwing Mine hence the laxity of security at the mine. An expert calculation of an average of 2 000 bags of ore being transported from Redwing Mine said the output is an average 7kg of gold,” said Masanga.
Penhalonga Residents and Ratepayers Trust chairperson Webster Makoni told The NewsHawks that rampant prostitution, and early child marriages in the area had become side effects of irregular gold mining at Redwing Mine.