THE government is pushing ahead with plans to legalise gold panning with legislation to that effect expected to be in place by the first half of this year.
Zanu PF used the issue of formalising the illegal activities a major campaign rallying point in last year’s elections and it is now under pressure to mainly deliver.
However, environmentalists warn this would precipitate as major disaster as the artisanal miners have a propensity to do all manner of dangerous things including endangering people’s lives.
Last Friday we carried yet another report of gold panners that have been left to their devices at the gorges along the scenic route between Gweru and Shurugwi, popularly known as Boterekwa.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA), a government body, warned that the highway was threatened with collapse because the illegal miners have been digging trenches beneath in search of gold.
EMA said if the illegal activities are not curbed anytime soon the road would be in danger of collapsing.
Such a catastrophe would be a big cost to the economy as it could mean thousands of dollars invested on infrastructure would go down the drain – literally.
The agency also noted that the panners were in the habit of using dangerous chemicals that threatened the health of both people and animals, particularly livestock.
Illegal miners use chemicals such as cyanide and mercury in open water bodies, EMA noted.
The chemicals would poison aquatic life and also threaten people who survive on fish for survival. The health ramifications would even affect future generations.
Villagers also risk losing their livestock that drink from these water bodies.
It is such contradictions that make Zanu PF’s move to legalise gold panning counterproductive.
The majority of the people involved in illegal mining have no access to money to be involved in a capital intensive sector such as gold production.
Zanu PF maybe desperate to tap into this sector, but we should always be realistic and look into the big picture.
The government has no choice, but to clamp down on illegal miners especially those threatening infrastructure and people’s lives.
Law enforcement agents should move in and stop the lawlessness in Boterekwa before it is too late.