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COVID-19:Small scale miners downsize

Artisanal and small-scale miners in Gwanda and Bubi have reduced manpower by cutting down the number of workers at mine sites in a bid to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) has said.

ZELA director Shamiso Mtisi said this in the Weekly COVID-19 Mining Sector and Communities Situational Report.

Mtisi said although mine owners understand the need to temporarily stop mining operations and go on self-isolation, they are gripped with fear of losing their claims to other miners who may invade or take over during their absence.

He noted that a survey carried out by Zela showed that mineworkers who could afford bus fare have gone to their rural homes, while those without are staying at the mine but are not working.

“At one mine site in Gwanda, a miner with 18 workers had to send 14 of her workers home remaining with 4 of the critical staff. After the declaration of the Lockdown on March 27, most miners in Gwanda scaled down their operations and workforce leaving them only with skeletal staff that will provide security,” said Mtisi. 

“A few women miners in Bubi decided to stop operations completely to protect the safety and health of their workers and clients. With little knowledge on the virus and prevention methods for the COVID-19, some mine owners in Gwanda have been seen conducting a series of lessons targeting their workers on World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended COVID-19 prevention guidelines circulated on social media groups such as WhatsApp.”

Mtisi stated that in Gwanda some gold buyers were reportedly buying gold at low prices from artisanal miners since the prices had started to drop. 

“Gold is a store of value-they will resale when prices go up after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The current low gold prices have affected profitability and income for miners in all areas and those community members earning their livelihoods along the gold supply chain at community level. The ripple effect is that miners are now forced to mine more to make up for the loss and be able to take something home,” he said.

Mtisi added that access to clean water for domestic and mining use continues to be a challenge in Gwanda and Bubi as mining communities are forced to converge at the few available water points. 

He said in areas where portable water is available, the rates charged by ZINWA are too high and unaffordable to many.

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