News and Views on Africa from Africa
Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
Subscribe to our RSS feed
RSS logo

Latest news


Miners and farmers clash over land reform

The farmers and miners are headed for a collision course, thanks to the government s land reform programme.
Kholwani Nyathi

Prior to Zimbabwe s land reform programme, most small -scale mining activities used to take place on concession land, within large commercial farms. Local council authorities in various districts were empowered to grant mining permits, which would enable gold panning and other activities to take place within these concessionary areas.

Environmental surveillance was the job of the Alluvial Mining Controller, who carried out frequent surveys of mining areas and their environs in order to ensure that the ecosystem was not disturbed by mining. However, owing to the diverse land use patterns that have come about as a result of the land reform programme embarked on by the Zimbabwe government two years ago, small-scale mining and farming are increasingly at loggerheads.

In most cases, the environment is the loser. Of late, mining commissioners, the most senior Government representatives in district mining, have been reporting clashes between new farmers and small-scale miners, particularly gold panners, in districts such as Umzingwane, Insiza and parts of Midlands.

Usually, conflicts between the two groups occur when small-scale miners, having been awarded prospecting licences, face resistance while attempting to peg their rights on land allocated to new farmers for resettlement. According to farmer s groups, some miners attempt to undertake prospecting activities on acquired land, without the due consent of the new farmers, which may result in excavations and mining taking place in pastureland or cropping areas.

The clashes and subsequent uncontrolled land use, have a direct impact on the environment, in mining provinces such as Matabeleland, Midlands and Masvingo.

These activities have led to widespread siltation of rivers, topsoil erosion, gully formation and other forms of environmental degradation.

In most cases, hundreds of gold panners descend on a riverbank, dig pits and begin sifting through alluvium for traces of gold. Currently a gramme of gold is being bought by middlemen for prices ranging from $20 000 to $25 000, while the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe buys the mineral from custom millers at the regulated price of $15 000.

This difference is fuelling the illegal trade in gold, and driving its externalisation to lucrative neighbouring markets such as Botswana and South Africa. Legal and illegal gold panning is not something new to this region, but the land resettlement programme has further complicated issues, regarding land use. Farmers in Matabeleland, in particular, have raised complaints over the activities of gold panners, who are blamed for causing siltation in rivers, and leading to topsoil erosion, says Mr Amen Ndlovu an extension officer in the ministry of mines.

In a move described as belated by experts, the Zimbabwean government has embarked on public consultations that would culminate in the reviewing of the country s mining legislation in the aftermath of the land reform programme. The efforts of the ministries of mines and agriculture are aimed at harmonising aspects of the Mines and Minerals Act and the Land Acquisition Act, in order to smoothen relations between new farmers and miners. It will also seek to regulate gold panning which has become one of the largest income earners for impoverished Zimbabweans in the rural areas.

Addressing miner s organisations and members of the public during a parliamentary sub-committee meeting recently, senior officials in the Ministry of Mines and Mining development said proposed amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act would promote harmonious relations between new farmers and miners. They said currently there was no clear legal instrument on which activity held sway, with mining permits sometimes going directly against land resettlement patterns.

We are looking at ways in which the land use patterns involving small scale mining and agriculture can be somehow harmonised to ensure that both parties profit. At the moment, miners are going into newly resettled areas, armed with their permits and are immediately pegging land and starting their activities, without due consideration of the existing land use pattern, said a ministry official.

The official said the problem of conflicting land use patterns, had come to the fore during the land redistribution programme, where vast tracts of land, previously owned by a single owner, were now divided into self-contained units. In the past, the owner of a huge piece of land could afford to have mining activities taking place on that land, as he could profitably use other sections of the land. However, with the growth in numbers of people on the land, mining permits are increasingly encroaching onto new farmer s plots, and this is what the law will need to address, after consultation with both groups, he added

An official of the Prospectors and Mine Developers Organisation, Mr Steven Nkomo called on the ministry to put in place measures to penalise farmers from resisting the pegging of their land for purposes of mining. There have been many cases where miners set aside funds and labour, then when the actual pegging is about to take place, we face stiff resistance from the farmers. Sections of the Mines and Minerals Act should be amended to make it an offence for anyone to resist the pegging of their land for mining purposes, once a permit has been issued, he said.

Indigenous Commercial Farmer s Union vice-president, Dr Jimmy Gazi said there was need to educate farmers and miners on various land rights and use patterns, in order to avoid conflicts between the two groups. Minerals belong to the State, wherever they occur. A miner may prospect for a mineral, then acquire a prospector s licence and this gives him the right to mine within any area. However, if someone is settled on the land, then a miner cannot come in, without his permission, and begin prospecting for minerals, as this is against the law, said Dr Gazi.

The Ministry of Mines and Mining Development is on a countrywide tour, consulting miners groups and members of the public on amendments to be included in the new Mines and Minerals Act. Matabeleland South, Midlands and Masvingo are some of the country s prime mining areas, with thousands of illegal gold panners descending on streams and rivers throughout the provinces.

Contact the editor by clicking here Editor