Mangochi gold rush
…Govt. fights illegal mining
…Social-environmental concerns arise
By Marcel Chimwala, has become a centre
Mangochi, which is well known for fishing and lake tourism activities, has become a centre of attraction to enterprising locals and foreigners from countries such as Mozambique and Tanzania.
This time not for fishing and tourism activities but it is gold mining that has taken centre stage along Onga River in Makanjira area.
The situation attracted a team from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining to the site which learnt that over 300 unlicensed miners have invaded the area mining alluvial gold.
The presence of government officials who included officers from the Malawi Police Service and Immigration Department did not scare away the miners who are selling to the foreigners a bottle top of gold at K23,000.
Director for Mines Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Atileni Wona says his office is mapping out ways to sort out the issue of the illegal miners amicably.
Wona says the process will involve engaging the Environmental Affairs Department and police service to flush out the illegal buyers flocking the concerned area, organize the artisanal miners into legitimate small-scale mining cooperatives and license them.
Govt. clamps down on illegal gold miners as social-environmental concerns arise in Mangochi
Other than the information hidden in the pages of Malawi’s colonial geological bulletins indicating sporadic alluvial gold mineralization in Makanjira in Mangochi and surrounding areas, literally nothing was known in the public domain about the possibility of Mangochi becoming one day both a local and regional target and centre of attraction by illegal artisanal gold panners and buyers.
Unbelievably, rumour erupted like wild fire around May this year of the sprouting and booming of illegal gold panning activities by local artisanal miners which was reportedly attracting illegal immigrant buyers from Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, among others.
A bottle top of gold around the concerned areas has been fetching around 23-thousand Malawi Kwacha.
Director for Department of Mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Atileni Wona, confirms that there has been an abrupt emergence of illegal gold panning by artisanal miners in Saiti Village, in the area of Traditional Authority Makanjira on the banks of Onga River, which originates from Namizimu Forest in the District.
He says upon receipt of this information, his Department sent a team comprising the Regional Mining Engineer (South),Mphatso Ozituosauka,MiningAssistant, Ronnic Rino, and two police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department on a fact-finding mission.
The above mentioned officers verified that it was indeed true, illegal gold mining was taking place in the aforementioned area.
A group of at least 300 illegal artisanal miners (both men and women including children) had by then flocked along Onga River doing gold panning.
Reportedly, some people were coming from as far as Tanzania and Mozambique to buy the alluvial gold from the area.
He says the government is startled by the expertise that the illegal miners were employing to extract the gold from the ore.
Based on the technical adroitness used by the illegal miners in the extraction of the alluvial gold (free gold), there could be some big smuggler with expertise in artisanal gold mining behind the scenes privately imparting knowledge and skills to the illegal miners.
They had artistically crafted sluice troughs; they were mixing the ore with water from Onga River to make slurry and pass the latter through the sluice troughs – they, thus, were separating the liberated gold grains from the slurry using gravity separation technology.
He says during the visit, the team of Inspectors from Mines Department and Police Officers failed to stop this illegal operation reportedly because they saw elements of hostility from a greater number of the artisanal miners.
But now with the help of Traditional Authority Makanjira and other local leaders, the government has managed to stop the illegal mining operations.
Wona, however, says his department wants the issue to be handled professionally with caution explaining that a multi-sectoral and more tactical approach would be ideal.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Inspectors, together with the Police Officers, reportedly informed the miners that what they were doing was illegal. And, they carried the same message to the village headman as well as the District Commissioner for Mangochi,
He says his office has now engaged the Environmental Affairs Department, Immigration Department and police service to flush out the illegal artisanal miners and buyers flocking the concerned area, considering that they were breaking mining legislation as the area was already licensed to an exploration company.
And as a long-lasting strategy to curb illegal mining activities, the Department of Mines in liaison with Environmental Affairs Department, the office of the District Commissioner, Immigration Department, Police Service and traditional leaders in Mangochi formed a strong taskforce team in August, 2017, that has been conducting serious anti-illegal mining sensitization meetings and civic education campaigns on the evils of illegal mining activities in the district, with support from the Mining Governance and Growth Support Project (MGGSP).
After conducting a series of these meetings and campaigns for some time, a STOP ORDER was issued by the taskforce team during the first week of September, 2017, to the illegal artisanal miners and buyers. Following this “STOP ORDER”, the police and Immigration Officers were given the mandate, with the blessing of the traditional leaders, to start arresting anybody doing illegal mining activities in Mangochi.
Already a number of people have already been caught and arrested to this effect.
This operation, dubbed “OPERATION CEASE ILLEGAL GOLD PANNING” will continue until there is authentically zero illegal gold panning activity in Mangochi District,
Meanwhile, the Department of Mines’ fact- finding mission has identified several cross-cutting issues associated with the illegal mining works which include problems of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, disruption of families due to prostitution, environmental issues that could arise as the tailings are being dumped into Onga
River, bad sanitation related diseases as there are no toilets in the mining area, and other social issues such as alcoholism, and theft.
The Onga River is one of the oldest sources of gold in the county as the locals mined gold in this river for many years during the pre-colonial period. However, official records show that gold was first discovered in the river in 1936 during a reconnaissance survey by the colonial government in the Mangochi – Makanjila area.
A more intensive exploration was carried out in 1937 but, was concluded after it was discovered that the gold bearing rock veins were thin and sporadically spread for any meaningful commercial gold mining to take place.
Recent exploration of the river suggests that the gold in the river may have been derived from a major gold deposit up stream.
Malawi has great potential as a gold producer given the fact that most of its gold resources remain unexplored though gold mining in the country has a long history that dates back to the time of Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese explorer.
History books show that when the Portuguese first visited the east coast of Africa in the 15th century they were able to trade with locals in gold especially near the Limpopo River, and most of this gold came from inland countries such as the modern day Malawi where the early miners mined gold along the rivers.
Placer gold deposits have been reported in several places within Malawi but have not been fully explored though the government has granted exclusive prospecting licences to various companies.
Malawi’s known gold deposits include the Lisungwe-Kirk Range in Ntcheu where most of the alluvial gold being mined by artisanal and small scale miners (ASMs) along Lisungwe River comes from.
The Malawi government granted an exclusive prospecting licence to a Portuguese multinational, Mota-Engil, which is currently conducting prospecting work in the area.
The other known deposit is Nanthenje in Lilongwe where gold was discovered in the 1960s during a geological mapping of the country.
Further studies have revealed that most of the gold hare is found in sulphide rich bands of graphitic garnet-biotite-clinopyroxene gneiss.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 54 (October 2017).