Home » General » Shurugwi’s Pits of Death and Despair

Mrs Nyepesai Dube from Mapunzure communal lands in Shurugwi, in the country’s Midlands Province, is a broken woman. With the help of her husband and three children, she has earned a living through subsistence farming. Life seemed smooth but, an unfortunate incident changed her life. She blames mining companies that started operating in her area a few years ago.

It all began on October 28, 2013 when her nine-year-old daughter, Asa, disappeared soon after lunch only to be found dead in one of the many abandoned mining pits. The pits were operated by mining giant Zimasco. Weeping uncontrollably, Nyepesai narrates a heart-rending tale of despair, sadness and bitterness towards mining companies that exploit resources from communal areas.

The mining companies never develop the areas and abandon villages, she says.

“That particular day, we could not find some of our cattle and we asked my son and his sister to go and look for them at the pits where they usually drink water.

“When the children left my husband and I did not suspect that such a fate would befall our family,” she said in an interview recently.

That was the last time she saw her daughter alive. What she was to see next was her lifeless body being retrieved from an abandoned pit filled with water.

Nyepesai’s story is shared by many villagers in Shurugwi. Here, mining companies, especially Zimasco, are accused of abandoning pits, shafts and tunnels without reclaiming or securing them.

The villagers have lost their children, relatives and even their livestock in the pits. Some are still nursing injuries sustained when they fell into the pits.

Another villager, Lucia Malinga, on February 19, 2005, lost her seven-year-old grandson Shadreck who was herding cattle. Shadreck fell and drowned in one of the pits. Malinga blames the chrome mining companies for failing to seal the pits when they ceased operations.

“We are worried by their total disregard for life. People are dying because of their negligence but no efforts have been made to fill the pits or even cordon off the shafts,” Malinga said.

Another villager, Mr Siziba who fell into a 24 metres deep mine shaft, is lucky to be alive and narrate his story.

“I was lucky I did not fall to the bottom which was full of water. I hung on to some pieces of wood at 17 metres and shouted for help until I was rescued. The most painful part of my ordeal is that Zimasco or its tributary Madata never contributed to my medical expenses. The only time I saw officials from Zimasco was when they held a ceremony announcing that they were shutting down operations and paraded me as one victim of their abandoned mines,” he complained.

“We have seen people coming to inspect the abandoned shafts but nothing has been done further risking our lives.”

Chief Banga, who represented traditional leaders from the affected communities in Shurugwi and Zvishavane districts, said they had a big challenge if nothing was done soon.

“Our districts, judging from the abundance of mineral deposits, should have been developed by now but nothing is coming to the communities except death and deprivation. Our problem is we lack proper representation because our ministers and MPs are not in touch with reality hence no one looks at our concerns. The mining companies continue to exploit our natural resources and abandon the communities when they get what they want.”

An artisanal miner, Victor Mavesere Dube, blamed large-scale mining companies for the loss of life and property.

“In the past we used to pay 10 percent of our earnings to Zimasco for the rehabilitation of areas affected by our activities but the money is deducted before we are paid,” he claimed.

Women in Mining Shurugwi District treasurer Ms Rejoice Chivendera said the Environmental Management Agency should employ more officers to monitor mining activities in the area.

“EMA is affected by the shortage of personnel to supervise the rehabilitation of the abandoned mining sites,” she said.

Shurugwi’s Assistant District Adminstrator Mr Charles Mutimbairi said Government agencies and councils were working on rehabilitating the pits.

“The mining companies are indeed digging and disappearing. We have been working with the miners to rehabilitate the sites. However, our main concern is to protect the environment and using council by-laws, we hope to force companies, small-scale miners and artisanal miners to protect their sites and rehabilitate the environment,” he said.

EMA district officer for Shurugwi Mr Severino Kangara acknowledged the dangers associated with the disused mine shafts and pits.

“We have had cases of people drowning in the pits, gold panners dying in the shafts and other related cases. There are companies like Zimasco who have distributed their claims to tributaries. The tributaries mine to a certain depth before leaving the shafts as they do not have equipment to go deeper. We are, however, monitoring and inspecting registered mines where we have frequent visits for environment impact assessments,” he said.

He bemoaned resource constraints as a major hindrance to their endeavours. Tributaries are small-scale mining operations that are subcontracted by large-scale mining companies.

According to Oxfam country director Mr Jan Vossen, mining contributes billions of United States dollars and extractive-industry revenues can be used for health, education and agriculture.

According to evidence presented to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission policy brief, while mining is a key economic sector in Zimbabwe, the “negative effects it has in communities and the resultant violation of human rights is always underplayed”.

In a project sponsored by Oxfam, the ZHRC has identified three important aspects highlighting the effects of mining in Shurugwi including failure by mining companies to implement their corporate social responsibilities, environmental degradation and the distress and human rights violation caused to communities of place.

“The research revealed that large companies exploiting mineral resources in Shurugwi are making minimal efforts to plough back into communities. This is largely attributed to lack of a legal framework that obligates mining companies to practice corporate social responsibility in Zimbabwe.”

It was noted that there was massive environmental degradation especially by Zimasco’s tributaries for chrome mining, artisanal and small scale gold miners.

“The trend in Shurugwi is that disused open shafts and pits are left unrehabilitated. This is largely ascribed to lack of constant monitoring by the Environmental Management Agency due to limited resources. As a result there is unabated loss of lives (human and livestock), land degradation, air pollution, siltation and pollutionoisoning of rivers and streams.”

Communities hosting mining companies and employees, it was noted, were experiencing untold suffering from mining companies.

“Violations of human rights include labour rights, environmental, economic, social and cultural rights. The socialising of costs is evident through forced evictions and relocations of communities from their traditional homelands without prior informed consent to pave way for mining activities. This has led to communities suffering from loss of agricultural and grazing land thereby affecting their food security and sources of income.”

Zimasco (Pvt) Ltd spokesperson Ms Clara Sadomba while acknowledging the human rights aocacy role played by the ZHRC said the initiative was heavily biased against Zimasco and dwelt on largely false, unsubstantiated allegations. She said the ZHRC had interviewed people who do not have tribute agreements with Zimasco and solicited their views on the relationship between Zimasco and its tributors.

“The result is that there was no balanced and fair representation of facts as they relate to the accusations,” she said.

Ms Sadomba also confirmed that two dead bodies had been recovered from the pits belonging to Zimasco in the Mapanzure area but the pit where the body was found had a proper ramp (slope) leading into it which animals used to walk in drink water.

“Zimasco management visited the bereaved family to convey condolences in keeping with our tradition and also met with the chief of the area. Police investigations including post-mortem results could not link the cause of death to drowning.”

Ms Sadomba said the Zimasco shafts in the Shurugwi were protected by fencing, plugging of openings and posting of security personnel on active shafts 24 hours. She said not all open pits on the area belong to Zimasco adding that before accusations are levelled it is important to verify who owns that pit.

Ms Sadomba said Zimasco had submitted a comprehensive action plan on how it will handle rehabilitation of the pits to EMA. She refuted claims that the company does not collect levies from tributors for rehabilitation but the ore purchase price for mechanised open pit miners included compensation for rehabilitation.

“We believe that as responsible citizens and corporates, we have a duty to provide the authorities with accurate information to enable decision-making that will help the nation to move forward progressively in crafting policies that govern the nation.”

The International Council on Mining and Metals’ Principle 3 entails mining companies to “uphold fundamental human rights and respect cultures, customs and values in dealings with employees and others who are affected by our activities”.

The ZHRC, however, observed that environmental policies among Governmental agencies and departments are fragmented and the lack of co-ordination undermines protection of the environment.

“Resource constraints in relevant departments affect their capacity to implement environmental and mining laws and policies while there is no legal framework to govern corporate social responsibilities.”

Other challenges include lack of capacity to monitor and audit the implementation of Environmental Impact Assessment and enforcing consequences of non-compliance and lack of a responsible Government department for rehabilitating disused sites. Lack of regulatory framework governing artisanal and small-scale miners’ activities, water contamination, loss of livelihoods for communal farmers, loss of lives and livestock in unprotected openings, unsecured mine dumps, pits and shafts, environmental degradation and lack of fair and adequate compensation for victims and displaced families are also some of the problems faced.

The ZHRC, however, recommends the legislation of corporate social responsibility in accordance with the international and regional law frameworks, regulating and decriminalising of the operations of artisanal miner, training of artisanal and small-scale miners to ensure that their activities minimise environmental degradation and fair and equitable compensation for communities.

Ms Sadomba said Zimasco has since rehabilitated the pits and is continuing with the exercise to rehabilitate any other areas.

Source : The Herald