ENVIRONMENTALISTS have warned that illegal gold panning activities in the gorges along the scenic route between Gweru and Shurugwi, popularly known as Boterekwa, pose a risk to motorists as the road faces collapse.
Midlands Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial education and publicity officer Timothy Nyoka yesterday said the illegal panners could have dug some tunnels under the road in their search for the precious metal and the road could cave in if nothing was done to deal with the looming danger.
“There are indications that panners could be digging tunnels under the Boterekwa road and we are saying if the situation continues unattended, there is danger of the road collapsing,” he said.
Nyoka said the Transport ministry patched what was suspected to be an entrance to a tunnel in the middle of the highway about three years ago.
He urged the police to continue raiding and arresting the panners because the damage they could cause to the highway would prove very costly in the long run.
Recently, a classroom at Globe and Phoenix Primary School in Kwekwe collapsed as a result of illegal underground gold mining in some disused shafts.
Nyoka also said the panners used dangerous chemicals that threatened the health of both people and animals, particularly livestock.
“They use chemicals such as cyanide and mercury in open water bodies,” he said.
“We are saying if the fish in rivers and dams are contaminated and then people go on to eat that fish, this could trigger a health disaster.
“Even livestock could be exposed to the dangers of these chemicals.”
Nyoka said as long as the panners continued with their illegal mining activities deep tunnels would continue to be dug under the road causing major damage to the road.
The illegal panners have been digging for gold for years now and raids by the police have done little to curb their activities.
A gold panner in his 30s said there was no way he would stop digging for gold because it was the only source of livelihood for him and his family.
“People blame us for land degradation through our mining activities, but I have to survive my brother.
“My family expects me to put bread on the table and this is the only way I can do that,” the man, who only identified himself as Lenso, told Southern Eye.
Another panner who had a sack filled with ore said unemployment had forced them to turn to illegal gold panning.
“There are no jobs my friend. How do you expect us to survive? At least we are not stealing from anyone,” he said.
Mines and Mining Development deputy minister Fred Moyo said his ministry was in the process of ensuring that gold panners were registered in a bid to curb the activity which seems to have gone out of hand in recent years.
Moyo said registering all small-scale operators would enable the government to organise them to ensure that they operated within the confines of the law.