MUTARE-Government’s continued on and off suspension of mining operations at Redwing Mine is just a talk show as long as political elites continue to interfere in the running of illegal activities at the gold rich area.
Stop gap measures by the Government of suspending operations at the gold rich mine whenever there is a disaster will not change anything as long as there is political interference, a local think tank, Center for Research and Development (CRD) has noted.
Government last week for the third time suspended mining activities at the gold-rich mine in Phenalonga after a shaft collapse which resulted in 15 artisanal miners being trapped for four days underground said CRD director, James Mupfumi.
In response to the disaster the Ministry of Mines quickly wrote a letter suspending Betterbrands, a company that has a 25-year lease from Redwing Mine to conduct surface mining targeting reef outcrops and underground mining utilizing existing shafts and tunnels.
Redwing Mine went under Judicial management in 2019 and Betterbrands secured the mining lease through corporate rescue arrangement in 2020.
In suspending operations, the government pointed out poor access controls that were in violation of mining management and safety regulations and the mining method was not adhering to standards of maintaining pillars between shafts.
The mining shafts are not properly equipped and supported to prevent collapse.
However, Mupfumi in a statement in possession of The Midweek Watch said the reasons for the suspension mentioned by Ministry of Mines are not new and the promise that government was going to conduct a thorough investigation cannot be taken seriously if precedent is anything to by.
“CRD led a growing citizen voice in warning government against the proposed project in 2021.CRD went on to highlight the dangers of conducting surface mining activities on top of disused shafts and tunnels at Redwing at the Betterbrands EIA stakeholder consultation meeting.
“In 2023 CRD and partners highlighted the same reasons mentioned in the suspension letter that the government is promising the nation today, that it will conduct a thorough investigation.
“Government succumbed to growing citizen concern and closed Betterbrands mining operations in January 2023.
“However, another green light to resume the deadly operations was given to Betterbrands by the government in March 2023.Pressured by political elites to open the Mine,” added Mupfumi.
Part of the re-opening conditions was for the mine to purchase 8 gas monitors prerequisite for entry into workings to strengthen access control by enclosing mining areas clocking in and out system to ensure accountability.
To have waste management systems, dust suppression measures, standard ablution facilities to comply with EIA, ensure progressive rehabilitation as well as closing legacy pits.
The company was supposed to submit monthly rehabilitation progress report to EMA and ensuring mine working distance to infrastructure should be as per SI 72 of 1989.
The workers were supposed to have adequate PPEs such as helmets, safety shoes, protection of working shaft gate and not to allow vendors in the mining area.
“None of these conditions have been followed by Betterbrands and the number of fatal mining incidences have increased at Redwing Mine.
“Needless to mention that the company had made a commitment to adhere to various statutory instruments on waste disposal, air pollution assessment and water act.
“On water pollution periodic water tests were to be conducted due to proximity of mining operations to Mutare River.
“They also made a commitment to oblige by the Hazardous Substance Act, Public Health Act, Gold Trade Act, Labour Act among other statutory laws in their EIA plan approved by the government;” CRD said.
CRD added that it is now concerned by a surge in the establishment of illegal hammer mills and cyanidation tanks from 129 hammer mills and 6 cyanidation tanks in October 2021 to 774 illegal hammer mills and 28 cyanidation tanks by 31 December 2023.
“These gold processing plants have been established along farms, streams, residential areas, schools and forestry estates in Penhalonga and surrounding communities exposing citizens to worst forms of chemical contamination, noise pollution, hazardous waste dumping that have rendered water from the affected rivers unusable.
“At the same time the Ministry of Mines seem not to be concerned about the porous mining activities at Redwing Mine where 5kgs of gold or more is being lost to illegal gold milling plants that are also fueling tax evasion,” reads the statement.
Government has now suspended Betterbrands mining activities for the third time on same reasons but has not taken necessary measures to bring to an end unsafe and porous mining activities.
“CRD is disheartened to realise that supreme court ruling of 2022 removed Redwing mine from corporate rescue effectively terminating corporate rescue mining arrangements at Redwing.
“But ever since the court ruling, Redwing Mine has remained under house arrest from political elites. These political elites are protecting Betterbrands mining activities at Redwing Mine at the expense of human life and sustainability of Zimbabwe’s economy,” CRD said.