Malawi gold mining mess
…Four dead as tunnel collapses in Makanjira
…Illegal miners defy government’s stop order
By Marcel Chimwala
Artisanal and small-scale miners have defied a government order to stop alluvial gold panning in Makanjira area in the lakeshore district of Mangochi and are continuing with the process despite the government involving armed police officers to halt the operations.
The government views the gold panning operations as illegal since the miners are not licensed and there is no established market for gold such that the miners are selling the precious mineral to foreign and local dealers at K23,000 per bottle top.
Director for Mines Department Atileni Wona a couple of months ago formulated a task force that comprised government officials, the police and immigration department officials, and traditional leaders to stop the illegal mining operations.
However, a Mining & Trade Review team that visited the district last month established that the operations were still going on despite the presence of the task force and the government’s involvement of armed police officers from Makanjira Police Station to conduct patrols in the mining areas.
After being tipped by our editorial team, the Department of Mines conducted a fact-finding mission to the District which included a reporter from Mining & Trade Review.
The team established that gold mining operations are continuing in several rivers including Unga, Lugalo, Lukoloma and Thilasi, where four people are reported dead after been buried in a tunnel which they dug as part of the gold mining process.
Group Village Headman Saiti, who is a member of the task force that government established to bring an end to illegal mining operations in Mangochi, confirmed reports of the death of the four people.
The incident happened at the border with Mozambique and all the people who died were Mozambicans,
He complained to the visiting team of government officials that the mining operations have created a lot of problems in the area including fights for gold resources between Malawian and Mozambican miners, who have trekked to the area alongside other fortune seekers from Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
He said the situation is causing a lot of problems in the area including disruption of families due to prostitution, spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, environmental issues arising as tailings are being dumped into the rivers, bad sanitation related diseases as there are no toilets in the mining area, alcoholism and theft.
The situation is getting worse with the onset of the rainy season as many miners are trekking to our area to seek alluvial gold eroded from the mountains,
Saiti explained that the task force which the government set up in August this year to stop illegal mining is failing because the miners are allegedly bribing police officers.
It is sad that no one is yet to be convicted for illegal mining and when the miners are arrested, it does not take long before they are released,
Saiti said the police are also failing to deal with the gold buyers because they claim to have licenses that permit them to buy gold.
But Wona told the traditional leader that his office has not issued licences to extract or buy gold which in Malawi laws is classified as a reserved mineral alongside silver and other precious stones.
These people who are coming to buy gold are smugglers because in Malawi, the only body mandated to buy gold is the Reserve Bank of Malawi,
The Mines and Minerals Act, currently under review, states that no person shall possess any reserved mineral in its raw state unless the possessor is the holder of a mineral tenement and the reserved mineral was extracted from or on the person’s area.
It says a person who possesses or purchases or sells any reserved mineral in its raw state in contradiction to this law is guilty of an offence and upon conviction is liable to a fine as prescribed in the regulations or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Mining & Trade Review has established that the miners claiming to have gold mining licenses have artisanal mining permits which are granted by the District Commissioner’s office to mine minerals used in local area construction such as sand, gravel, stones, clay, aggregate, earth and minerals used for the customary making of pottery and bricks.
Meanwhile, the government has said it is planning a major operation to kick out the miners and gold buyers which will also involve the Police.
We will kick out these illegal miners, and license ASMs who will be trained and organized into cooperatives. We will organize a proper market for them and they will be remitting tax to government,
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 55 (November 2017).