COVID-19 Impact on ASM News about how COVID-19 is affecting artisanal and small scale mining in the world

Update 7: Impacts of COVID-19 on ASM: Insights from the ground

Zimbabwe: COVID-19 situational updates in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sites in Kwekwe, Shurugwi and Gwanda

Situational update provide by Pact Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’ s Ministry of Health and Child Care's recent update on COVID-19 pandemic as of 08 April 2020 is summarized below1

  • COVID-19 tests conducted: 411
  • COVID-19 positive: 11 including 3 deaths
  • COVID-19 negative: 400

Zimbabwe is now on day 10 of the COVID-19 21 days lockdown which began in earnest at midnight on Monday 30 March 2020. It’s quite clear that Harare is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. As such the busy streets of our cities and towns have been turned into ghost towns overnight affecting the livelihoods of millions of citizens dependent on daily incomes in a country with over 90% unemployment and a largely informal economy. For many of Zimbabwe's 16 million people, the lockdown means serious hardship as already the economy is in deep recession. However, the mining industry has been spared after the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) identified it as a key economic pillar that needs to continuously operate. However, some key players, not excluding corporates such as Mimosa and Unki Platinum Mines, have opted to play it safe hence remaining with skeletal staff on site. This means the mines can opt to either be under care and maintenance or to reduce production by working with skeleton staff to observe social distancing and limit workplace congestion. Therefore, GoZ through the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development have indicated that mining companies including artisanal and small-scale mines (ASM) should have clear guidelines on how they will continue to operate and safeguard their employees from contracting COVID-19 during the 21-day lockdown. Fidelity Printers & Refiners (FPR), the sole of buyer of gold in Zimbabwe and subsidiary company of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), have also scaled down their operations and now have only two offices open from 09:00 to 15:00 in Harare and Bulawayo. However, their agents remain operational buying gold from miners against the prevailing relatively stable FPR gold prices.

With these new arrangements the following questions emerge:

  • How long will mercury still be available on the market considering the borders have closed?
  • Will the mercury price fluctuate or remain stable?
  • Do artisanal miners have the capacity to observe WHO guidelines to prevent COVID-19 transmission?
  • How will the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development monitor their operations to ensure compliance?

Pact Zimbabwe has tried to share on the ground information through continuous interaction with key stakeholders including miner beneficiaries in the three mining districts of Kwekwe, Shurugwi & Gwanda where the Zimbabwe Accountability and Artisanal Mining Program (ZAAMP) is being implemented.

Shurugwi

No positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported to date. Miners report that the testing centers are still to be decentralized and all they know is the existence of screening sites such as at Shurugwi Hospital. One mining association, whose membership largely comprises beneficiaries of ZAAMP’s capacity building initiatives met with local leadership on Day 2 to deliberate on the way forward regarding their operations and settled to apply for an exemption which has since been granted temporarily pending final review and approval by the Ministry of Mines. Illegal miners have continued with their business, some taking advantage of poor enforcement of the lockdown regulations while others remain unaware. This indicates a need for greater awareness raising about COVID-19 in mining communities. Some prominent small scale miners were operating, taking advantage of the greater availability of electricity, which had until last week been a key setback to operations. Some have put in place and further enforced existing precautionary measures. One cooperative mine site in Shurugwi has downsized its labor force. They now have fewer workers at any given shift who work through the entire process until they get their processed gold for the day. Pre-existing measures such as safety talks have been reinforced. Mercury being sold at more or less the same price of US$5 per teaspoon or US$95/kg is now hard to access in places. Gold prices on the parallel market dipped by an estimated 30% possibly because of the closed borders to neighboring countries.

Kwekwe

No positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported to date despite the previous scares. The few miners surveyed seemed to have all made their way to their mine sites despite the lockdown call on the very first day. Artisanal miners who survive from hand to mouth continue with operations albeit centralizing more on surface operations following calls by patrolling police to desist all other operations that involve many people working at once. Some have totally forgone underground operations and now focus on rubble mining and ore processing. In other jurisdictions miners were totally disallowed to operate. Miners who were previously not affiliated to ZMF failed to raise the money required to apply for an exemption whilst others had not heard about the opportunity to apply for exemption before the Friday 3 April 2020 deadline.

Gwanda

No positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported to date, however, a group of 15 Ethiopian migrants en-route to South Africa was found housed at a rural homestead in Gwanda after a tip-off. One of the migrants was in a poor state of health and had to be rushed to Gwanda Hospital for treatment . Initial reports indicate that the immigrants were being housed at a homestead in Mawane One Village in Swisha area after they failed to cross the border. Some milling centers in Shurugwi and Gwanda, including those run by women, are not operational as workers observe the lockdown call. Some miners who were skeptical to go to their mines on the first day where able to maneuver police roadblocks since Day 2 in order to supply personnel at the mine sites with food and water. Since the beginning of this week, the police at roadblocks are asking miners, in addition to other travel documents, for copies of exemption letters which were granted by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development last week. Sadly, the police wear no gloves, protective masks nor possess any hand sanitizers. Most miners have processed applications to seek exemptions to avoid losing claims, property and ore to thieves. However, some applied in order to continue production and key maintenance operations critical for a mine to continue to operate long after the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 232 ASMs were granted exemption letters as at 3 April 2020. Soldiers were deployed to enforce lockdown on Sunday 5 April 2020. Police are reported to be beating up residents in the suburbs after 1pm and chasing away people found on some mine sites that have no proof of applying for the exemption. Last week, police reportedly asked personnel on mine sites if they had applied for exemption and advising all those who applied to have a copy of the response letter on site. Access roads to commonly known parallel market sites are under intense army surveillance in a bid to curb informal gold trade. Safety measures put in place include sanitizers and masks for those who could afford and were proactive enough to buy them while still accessible. Some chemical and explosive supply companies have been exempted in order to support the mining sector and fortunately stock up on sanitation and hygiene kits such as masks and sanitizers. Mercury is still available at a price of ZAR75 per teaspoon (equivalent 4.20 USD/tsp). With social distancing being encouraged, operations have scaled down and some living conditions of mine workers have had to be revised to reduce overcrowding.

1Ministry of Health and Child Care, Situational Report April 8

Article Zimbabwe Gold Political, Formalization, Governance, Economic, Access to Markets, Social, Employment, Human Rights, Labor and Working Conditions, Environmental, Mercury, COVID-19

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