By Thandeka Matebesi
Illegal gold panners are wreaking havoc in Gwanda, Matabeleland South and the effects of their devastating activities are being felt across environmental, social and economic sectors.
A resident who identified himself as Mr. Ndlovu said that in his area, the level of land degradation resulting from gold panning is alarming.
“The area where I come from has been massively invaded by groups of gold panners who appear to have been allocated pegged areas for mining under the guise of black empowerment. The tragedy is that the motive seems political as most of those engaged in illegal panning appear to be supporting a particular political party. The scale of environmental degradation is appalling as deep gullies, pits, trenches are all over the place, endangering domestic animals and human beings as well. Soon heavy rains will fill them. These pits then become death traps”, said Ndlovu.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Provincial Environmental Manager for Matabeleland South Mr. Decent Ndlovu said that they were working with various stakeholders to undertake raids on individuals involved in illegal gold panning.
Recently we have been facing a challenge of pollution and siltation of our major water sources such as at the confluence of Insiza and Umzingwane rivers. In addition to chemical poisoning of water sources, these illegal gold panners also dig pits which are at least 100 meters deep where water collects. Ultimately the water is delayed in its flow to the dams.
“We are working with the police, local authorities and traditional leaders to apprehend such individuals. We also feel that there is need for educational activities on the negative impacts of such activities “, said Ndlovu.
Ndlovu noted with concern the environmental impact of gold panning in Gwanda.”There are far reaching socioeconomic and environmental impacts of such activities. Use of chemicals such as mercury and cyanide which cannot be removed from the environment once released results in serious water pollution. Another issue is that these panners do not practice hygienic ways of human waste disposal, they defaecate in open spaces.
Furthermore, oils from the servicing of generators pollute the water sources for local communities and the land. Crucially, the environment has lost its natural beauty as a result of pits that are everywhere. The problem is that after such mining activities have taken place, the land becomes useless because the pits remain open as the illegal panners do not bother to close them”, he said.
Ndlovu added, “In as much as we want to extract the minerals we should also consider the environmental impacts of our actions.”