The death of five artisanal miners at a mine in Matabeleland South last week was yet another sad reminder of the lawlessness that is creeping into the mining sector in the country, which is fuelled by the political elite with tragic consequences.
Four other people were seriously injured after a tunnel collapsed at the abandoned Nugget Mine in Matobo district last Monday, trapping illegal miners underground.
According to reports, at least 1 000 people from all over the country had descended on the mine after rich gold deposits were discovered.
The Mines ministry was blamed for the accident because of delays in issuing a licence to the owner of the gold claims to start operations at the mine legally.
Illegal miners took advantage of the vacuum and descended on the mine for rich pickings, but it was always a great risk to carry out undergrounding mining without adhering to safety rules.
The Nugget Mine fiasco was just a tip of the iceberg as illegal mining activities have become a menace in Zimbabwe’s gold-rich provinces, including Matabeleland South.
It happened merely four months after 26 people died at Cricket and Silvermoon mines in Battlefields, Midlands.
Scores of illegal miners were trapped underground after tunnels were flooded while they were hunting for gold, resulting in the high number of deaths.
As we report elsewhere, illegal miners have become a menace for communities where they engage in violent activities.
There are reports that clashes between the gold panners at Nugget Mine had become commonplace and community leaders are at a loss on how to deal with the scourge.
The problems in Matabeleland South mirror the chaos in gold mining areas in Midlands where militias who use all manner of weapons that include machetes, guns, knives and spears are wreaking havoc.
Several people have lost their lives during clashes between the militias, some of them linked to ruling Zanu PF politicians.
The militias are often engaged in fights for control of gold claims and the clashes are bloody.
So far the government seems to be taking a back seat, hence the scourge is spreading to other provinces.
As seen during the Nugget Mine disaster, police only react when there is a death.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been very ambiguous about illegal mining activities and this to a large extent has spawned lawlessness.
The recent deaths must serve as a wake-up call to the Mines ministry to reassert its authority in the mining sector and for police to do their jobs.