Artisanal small-scale mining: Potential ecological disaster in Mzingwane District, Zimbabwe
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Artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) has devastating impacts on the environment, such as deforestation, over-stripping of overburden, burning of bushes and use of harmful chemicals like mercury. These environmental impacts are a result of destructive mining, wasteful mineral extraction and processing practices and techniques used by the artisanal small-scale miners. This paper explores the ecological problems caused by ASM in Mzingwane District, Zimbabwe. It seeks to determine the nature and extent to which the environment has been damaged by the ASM from a community perspective. Interviews, questionnaires and observations were used to collect qualitative data. Results indicated that the nature of the mining activities undertaken by unskilled and under-equipped gold panners in Mzingwane District is characterised by massive stripping of overburden and burning of bushes, leading to destruction of large tracts of land and river systems and general ecosystem disturbance. The research concluded that ASM in Mzingwane District is an ecological time bomb, stressing the need for appropriate modifications of the legal and institutional frameworks for promoting sustainable use of natural resources and mining development in Zimbabwe. Government, through the Ministry of Small Scale and Medium Enterprises, need to regularise and formalise all gold mining activities through licensing, giving permanent claims and operating permits to panners in order to recoup some of the added costs in the form of taxes. At the local level, the Mzingwane Rural District Council (MRDC) together with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) need to design appropriate environmental education and awareness programmes targeting the local community and gold panners.