Chikombedzi mineral rush triggers fears of land degradation

Some of the miners relaxing at the amethyst minefield at Phahlela, Gezani in Chikombedzi under Chief Sengwe. Photo by Patrick Chitongo, CAJ News Africa

Some of the miners relaxing at the amethyst minefield at Phahlela, Gezani in Chikombedzi under Chief Sengwe. Photo by Patrick Chitongo, CAJ News Africa

from PATRICK CHITONGO recently in Gezani, Zimbabwe
GEZANI, (CAJ News) IN scenes reminiscent of over a decade ago, small scale miners have flocked Gezani communal lands, Chikombedzi under Chief Sengwe in Chiredzi district following the discovery of amethyst, a precious stone used in jewelry.

However, there are fears the unregulated mining activities could harm the environment.

The discovery of a gem is set to turn the remote Gezani community in Chikombedzi rural under Chief Sengwe into a mining haven as artisanal miners from all over the country descend on the area.

Three mining companies are already in the area to excavate the purple gem. This has created employment for locals.

The companies are doing open cast mining along Chimbomana Hills and Phahlela area. One of the companies has so far employed over 100 locals. Other mining companies are prospecting for gems at Mahlarini.

International buyers have also pervaded the area. Amethyst is said to fetch US$50 per kilogramme.

Controversy has however trailed the mining of the stones, which are found in some pockets of granite rocks.

Local headman, Ben Gezani, said they were not consulted.

“I know there are some companies who are mining in my area but they never consulted me,” he said in disbelief.

“I sent my aides to check the activities and when they came back they told me that they saw over 100 local people already working on one of the mines. I understand that this has created employment in my area but it is important for investors to come to us first so that we tell them what they must do or not,” Headman Gezani exclusively told Lowveld Post,

He feared the lands would be degraded if mining activities were not monitored.

In a separate interview, Chiredzi District Environmental Management Agency (EMA) officer, Peter Mugodhi, told CAJ News Africa the government would probe if the mining firms were compliant.

CAJ News Africa also established that none of the companies were conforming.

“My office received reports of hordes of miners coming to Chikombedzi from as far as Harare and Shurugwi. We are going to do our patrols next week (this week) where we will visit these mines and see if they are mining according to regulations,” Mugodhi said.

Mehluli Moyo, an elder at Kazamula village, also under Chief Sengwe said the gems had been informally mined for a decade but there was not much interest as foreign buyers allegedly misinformed miners the stones were not valuable.

“It’s only recently that we realised that these gems have value. For almost a decade now we used to have people coming here at night to buy the gems but they kept telling us that the stones were of less value. The opening of these three mines is a clear indication that the gems have value abroad,” Moyo said.

A miner who requested anonymity explained why they preferred selling to foreign buyers.

“The local mineral market does not pay handsomely. Foreign buyers buy at an average of $50 per kg,” he said.

Frank Rawlings, a Netherlands national at Mahlarini village, told CAJ News Africa he was in the area to buy amethyst.

There was a mineral rush east of Zimbabwe in 2006 following the discovery of diamonds in Chiadzwa, under Chief Marange in Manicaland province.

Thousands of artisanal miners sparked a water, sanitation and housing crisis.

A 2012 study commissioned by the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association and conducted by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) established that operations at the diamond fields were releasing dangerous chemicals into the Save River.

Three diamond mining companies were also found to be at fault.

– CAJ News

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