Need for action not rhetoric on illegal gold mining
It is a fact that Malawi has become a haven for gold dealers from the region who are camping in gold panning hotspots to buy the minerals from artisanal and small scale miners (ASMs).
As reported in our lead article, customary land owners in gold panning sites such as Nanthenje River Banks in Lilongwe, Makanjira and Namizimu Forest Reserve in Mangochi, and Lisungwe in Ntcheu are cashing in on the practice through renting their land to the ASMs.
Government, which is mandated to license ASMs, has described the practice as illegal.
In a Press Release, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining sternly warns individuals engaged in illegal mining activities to stop the ‘malpractice’ or face eviction and prosecution according to the laws of Malawi.
In the statement signed by Principal Secretary Patrick Matanda, the Ministry stresses that exploration, mining, and trading of mineral products without valid licenses issued by the Ministry is a punishable offence as stipulated in the Mines and Minerals Act (1981).
It also quotes Forestry Act (1997) which prohibits exploration, mining, settlement and cutting down of trees in forest reserves without licenses from the Forestry Department, saying any activity currently happening in protected areas such as Namizimu Forest Reserve is against the law.
The Ministry further urges local communities to desist from encouraging the malpractice through provision of shelter, food, labour, selling of merchandise and providing mining plots in their land to the dealers.
It puts July 20, 2018 as deadline for the miners to stop illegal mining activities.
However, some weeks after the deadline, illegal gold mining activities are still taking place in these hotspots where thousands of people, including vendors selling their merchandise, have camped.
As reported in our lead article, there are several risks associated with this practice including safety of the miners, who are conducting mining activities without any safety measures.
There are also risks of conflicts and fights among the miners, tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, and diseases that may arise due to poor sanitation such as diarrhea as the sites have no toilets.
We, therefore, feel it is imperative for the government to take action against these miners. However, we feel the right action is not bringing the miners to the court of law as the Ministry says in its Press Release but rather what the Chairman for Nyasa Mining Cooperative Percy Maleta says in the lead article which is to regulate the activity by training and licensing the miners, and ensuring that government collects taxes from any sales of the minerals from these sites.
We feel as a country, Malawi is losing considerable revenue because of its failure to regulate the ASM sector which is one of the largest employers in the country.
In this vein, we urge the government to be serious in managing this sector by adopting the ASM policy, which will act as a guideline to manage the subsector, enacting the New Mines and Minerals Law and scaling up enforcement of laws and regulations to do with ASM operations.
Certainly, foreign unscrupulous mineral dealers will always take advantage of a disorganized situation where the laws are archaic and enforcement is difficult, and national mineral exploration programmes are not up to date due to inadequate funding to institutions such as Mines and Geological Survey Departments.
There is certainly a need for action and not mere rhetoric from Capital Hill to address this problem of illegal gold mining, which is putting lives of a good number of impoverished Malawians at risk and contributing to loss of revenue that government would have earned license fees and taxes.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 64 (August 2018).