NCA convenes indaba on Mangochi illegal gold mining
- Community wants government to flush out illegal miners
- Unregulated mining contributing to socio-environmental problems
By Marcel Chimwala
Members of the community in Mangochi, who are subjected to the ills of illegal gold panning activities taking place in Makanjira area, had an opportunity to voice out their concerns on the malpractice in front of relevant government officials thanks to the Mangochi District Mining Indaba which the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) convened last month in conjunction with the Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN).
Natural Resource Governance Coordinator for NCA, Thokozani Mapemba, says the Indaba was organized after NCA was informed of the increased mining activities in Mangochi-Makanjira specifically in Namizimu Forest where unlicensed artisanal and small scale miners (ASMs) including foreigners from countries such as Rwanda, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have been camping for almost a year mining gold and corundum (the precious rubies and sapphire).
Mapemba explains that the development prompted NCA and NRJN to conduct a study using Theatre for Development (TFD) methodology which verified the same.
This propelled the two organizations to bring together all the key stakeholders to find ways of addressing the problem, which was the basis for conducting the indaba,
He says the Indaba created a platform where office bearers in the Department of Mines, the District Council responsible offices, Civil Society Organizations and communities affected by mining activities engaged to find a solution to the upsurge of the illegal mining activities in Mangochi.
Participants included the Director of Mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, the Officers in-charge for Mangochi and Makanjira police stations, District council officers from Environment, Labour and the District Commissioner who was represented by the Director of Administration, faith leaders both Muslims and Christians, representatives of Mangochi civil society network, councilors, Traditional Authorities (TAs), manager for Mangochi-based Cement Products Limited and members of the affected local communities.
Specifically, the activity achieved its objectives which were to provide a platform for the affected communities to demand accountability from the duty bearers with regards to the Makanjira illegal mining issue, present the community stand on government’s lack of commitment to swiftly address mining issues in Makanjira and force duty bears to take action to address the illegal mining issue and its consequences,
Upon being pressurized by members of the affected community, Director for the Department of Mines, Jalf Salima, made a commitment to visit Makanjira to have first-hand information of the extent of the environmental damage and the extent of the mining activities inside Namizimu Forest within a week.
The community demanded that
within two weeks, the government must evacuate the illegal miners or face community action.
A participant Shiekh Abdullah Kaposa took Salima to task saying time for consultation was over because the communities had earlier given government an ultimatum to have the illegal miners evicted by July which had not been done.
We do not have time for your presentations or further meetings, all we want is to see the illegal miners out of our area. We are giving you two to three weeks to do your job or else we will mobilize communities and do it ourselves,
Kaposa’s sentiments got full backing from Traditional Authorities Makanjira as well as Chowe, Group Village Headman (GVH) Saiti and other GVHs whose areas are affected by the illegal mining activity.
NRJN, whose Chairperson Kossam Munthali was in attendance, took advantage of the Indaba to engage the CSO network in Mangochi to scale up its advocacy activities on extractive issues which is necessary with the increase in mining activities in the district.
Upon convening the Indaba, NCA and NRJN have learnt that the community has more power and capacity to spearhead the desired change if they are empowered. This was noted during the Indaba deliberations where local people pinned the duty bearers and managed to shape the perspective of the Indaba outcome. However, all they require is the provision of necessary support.
The Mangochi District Indaba played a pivotal role in shaping the future of illegal mining activities in the district more especially in Makanjira. The Department of Mines opened its eyes and realized the need to take a proactive approach in responding to the mining developments happening in the country. However, it remains unknown if the move will receive the political will that the activity deserves.
Mining contributing to socio-environmental problems in Makanjira
The study commissioned by the NCA reveals that a number of environmental and social problems have arisen in the area of GVH Saiti in Makanjira as a result of illegal gold mining activities.
The study report says one of the worries of the community is that since gold panning started in 2015 in Unga River and surrounding area, there are tunnels and big holes that have been created posing a threat to lives of people.
As the holes or tunnels are left without any proper environmental protective measures, there is a danger of water percolating during heavy rains which may end in landslides which may endanger lives of innocent members of the community,
the report reads.
It says the other environmental problem identified in the study is that of river siltation saying people openly explained that the Unga River which was previously depended on for irrigation farming is drying up and the small quantity of water remaining is contaminated.
This, therefore, is disturbing the farming system for those who relied on irrigation farming, and the value of the river in general is decreasing,
The study which was executed on behalf NCA by a local civil society group, Institute for Community Mobilisation, using the Theatre for Development (TFD) methodology says the other community concern is that of early pregnancies and breaking of marriages as illegal miners who are earning a fortune from the trade take advantage of the poverty of girls in the area to sleep with them.
The report says married women are also being coaxed to have extra-marital affairs with the miners who use money as a tool to fulfill their malicious sexual intentions.
One of the chiefs reportedly revealed that the miners dangle amounts of money ranging from K10,000 to K15000 to buy sex from the women or girls.
The study also says security threats are one of the concerns in the area citing the case of GVH Saiti who confirmed to have been receiving death threats through anonymous phone calls.
The callers have been threatening to kill him should he continue seeking for proper mechanisms and procedures regarding gold mining in the area.
Another version of threat has been presented in the perspective that those who are involved in illegal mining are mostly strangers and local people are living in persistent fear of the strangers in their midst,
says the report.
The other problem noted in the study is that school going children abscond classes to indulge in illegal gold panning.
The gold buyers who are mainly from neighbouring countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Rwanda buy the precious resource at MK25, 000 per gram. Mapemba, says in view of these problems, the study established that members of the community want the government to use force to flush out all illegal gold miners and buyers.
People also proposed to the government to put in place a proper arrangement or mechanism such as bringing an investor to employ locals so that they should substantially benefit from the gold found in their own land,
In a separate interview with the Mining & Trade Review crew on its visit to Makanjira, an aide to GVH Saiti, Wilson Ishmael concurs with Mapemba’s view saying the people of Makanjira are not rejecting mining activities but rather they want the activities to be conducted in an organized and sustainable manner.
I stayed in Zimbabwe which is a mining country for a number of years. In that country, there is sanity on the activities of ASMs because the government regulates the trade and enforces relevant legislation. Here, it is unfortunate that the government seems not to care as we, members of the community are suffering from the effects of unregulated and unsustainable mining practices,
He cites the drying of Unga River due to the gold panning activities taking place upstream as one of the environmental problems, which has made it impossible for the people in the area to grow vegetables in the river banks as is the tradition.
The situation has resulted in the scarcity of vegetables in our village such that we travel to buy vegetables in other villages, mostly those close to Lake Malawi which have ample water for irrigation,
Ishmael also concurs with the NCA TFD research findings that the coming of illegal miners has created problems such as marriage breakages and unwanted pregnancies in the area.
He commits to rally his subjects to work with NRJN to force the government to chase out the illegal miners whose presence in the area has brought more misery than gains.
It is a pity that even those natives of our village who joined the illegal mining operations are wallowing in poverty as they are used by these foreigners who buy the precious stones at very low prices and sell them at a whooping profit in foreign markets,
At the Indaba, Chiefs, led by Group Village Headman Saiti committed to use different mechanisms to trace the illegal miners so that they are kicked out of the area while members of the community committed to stop providing accommodation to the illegal miners.
On its part, NRJN committed to follow up on the issue to ensure that the police use force to kick out the illegal miners.
NRJN will ensure that after the illegal miners are chased, a mining cooperative (company) is established to conduct mining activities in the area in a sustainable way that allows that gold mining benefits both the community and the country,
Over 300 illegal artisanal miners (both men and women including children) have reportedly been involved in illegal gold panning activities in Makanjira area.
Government’s failure to enforce existing legislation
The Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining in July this year issued a strongly worded Press Statement in local newspapers warning individuals engaged in the illegal mining activities to stop the ‘malpractice’ or face eviction and prosecution in accordance with the laws of Malawi.
The Ministry would like to inform the public that exploration, mining, and trading of mineral products without valid license issued by the Ministry is a punishable offence as stipulated in the Mines and Minerals Act (1981),
said Principal Secretary for the Ministry, Patrick Matanda in the statement.
He also quoted the Forest Act (1997) which prohibits exploration, mining, settlement and cutting down of trees in forest reserves without a licence from the Forestry Department, saying any activity currently happening in protected areas such as Namizimu Forest Reserve is against the law.
The Ministry gave the miners July 20, 2018 as the deadline to stop the activities and urged the public to report any suspected illegal mining practices to the Ministry’s headquarters, Departments of Mines, Forestry and Geological Survey, District Commissioner’s offices and law enforcing agents.
It also urged 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.
But Mining & Trade Review through its visits to the gold panning hotspots has established that despite the threats from the government, the miners are still continuing with the illegal activities, which have attracted buyers from different countries including Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Mapemba comments that this lack of action by the government against the illegal miners is a sign of failure to enforce existing legislation that the Ministry cited in its Press Release.
Why are government officials failing to take action? Have they been corrupted by the gold buyers or are they afraid of some ruling party politicians who are rumoured to be involved in the trade in Makanjira?
He says NCA will continue working with partners including CSOs, faith groups and the affected communities to push government to action to end the malpractice.
NCA’s natural resource governance programme
NCA is implementing a natural resource governance programme, whose goal is to ensure accountable governance of public resources for equitable distribution of wealth and sustainable development in Malawi.
One of our objectives to achieve this goal is ensuring that rights holders contribute to improved policies and legal frameworks governing the extractives industry,
says NCA Country Director for Malawi, Havard Hovdhaugen.
Hovdhaugen explains that to achieve this objective, his organization is working with civil society groups which are organized in an advocacy coalition advocating for the revision of extractive industry policy and legal framework based on inputs and documented challenges from mining affected communities.
The second objective of the programme is to ensure that rights holders have held duty bearers accountable to communities’ rights in extractive industry.
Hovdhaugen explains that NCA is pursuing this objective by ensuring that women and men in mining affected communities have access to a simplified version of the Mines and Minerals Act in their mother tongue and are able to advocate towards local government and mining companies and claim their right.
He says the other objective of the programme is to ensure that duty bearers demonstrate increased transparency of public resources.
Hovdhaugen says under this objective, NCA provides training to partners, which include civil society and faith organisations, in order to develop skills and competence so that they are able to document key information gaps and advocate for revenue transparency, contract transparency and enforcement of the Access to Information Act.
Partners then engage parliamentarians and government in dialogue so that the EITI (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative) is implemented, mining contracts are publicized and the Access to Information Law is operationalized. The essence is to ensure that right holders have access to public information and community members are empowered to claim their rights,
The programme is targeting the districts of Balaka, Mangochi, Mwanza, Phalombe, Mulanje, Mchinji, Ntchisi, Lilongwe, Mzimba and Karonga.
The targeted population include religious and traditional leaders, community members, mining investors, parliamentarians, policy makers, District Council members and state actors.
NCA’s approach promotes increased engagement between stakeholders in the extractives sector including the government, investors, civil society groups and communities in resource rich areas to ensure that the impoverished communities are kept abreast of mining projects taking place in their areas.
Hovdhaugen explains that NCA embraced this approach after studies conducted by his organisation proved that in Malawi there is an information gap between stakeholders and communities in mining areas due to lack of dialogue and effective communication.
NCA employs the TFD strategy, which Hovdhaugen says has proved to be as an excellent tool to create space for dialogue between the affected communities and other stakeholders.
The organisation engages a local civil society grouping, Institute for Community Mobilisation (ICOM), to execute TFD in specific mining areas and has lately been to Malingunde Flake Graphite Project in Lilongwe, and Njereza Limestone Mining Project and Makanjira gold panning area in Mangochi.
Under the methodology, ICOM initially conducts research to establish root causes for various problems and also background information on the areas.
ICOM later facilitates discussions among duty bearers in this case government officials, CSOs, investors and community members and also facilitate development of action plans.
The action plans come from investors, community members and duty bearers on how they can solve critical problems affecting not only the community but also investors and government as they carry out their duties.
Then a theatrical performance follows, unveils the research findings and verifies them with the community.
The performance also facilitates development of action plans and resolution of issues between the community members, miners and duty bearers.
This strategy is effectively working here in Malawi where dialogue has been difficult because of poor communication strategies. For example, in projects such as Malingunde, communities say they were better sensitized by our TFD programme as officials from government and mining companies previously tasked with sensitizing communities used some technical language which they failed to understand,
Following the success of TFD in facilitating dialogue between stakeholders for the Malingunde Graphite Project in Lilongwe, Cement Products’ Njereza limestone mine, and gold panning areas in Mangochi, NCA has planned to take TFD to other mining areas where there are similar problems of lack of dialogue and effective communication between stakeholders and affected communities.
The expectation is that the approach will help eliminate fear among the affected communities as was the case with Malingunde.
The fear created in Malingunde was not only related to the issue of relocation, it was also about the lack of information in general. If relocated, to where? If compensated, how much? If mining will take place what will happen to the communities’ sacred places, graveyards?
ASX-listed Sovereign Metals is conducting a feasibility study for the Malingunde flake graphite mining project which is expected to yield approximately 44,000 tonnes of graphite concentrate per annum over an initial mine life o 14 years.
The company is also conducting environmental and social impact studies which include consultations with local stakeholders on the way-forward for the project.
Sovereign aims to complete all studies for the project towards the end of 2018 to decide whether the mine will be developed or not in 2019.
If a decision will be made to proceed to mining stage, a resettlement exercise will be implemented. Sovereign has, therefore, advised the communities in the project area to live their normal life until the relocation decision is made.
At Njereza in Mangochi, Cement Products, which is a local firm mining limestone in the district, has launched a clinker plant.
Alongside its partners, NCA is also advocating for the enactment of the Revised Mines and Minerals Law to replace Mines and Minerals Act (2001), which is considered outdated and archaic.
The Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining finalized consultations on the new Law a couple of years ago but despite repeated promises to expedite the enactment of the law, the government is yet to bring the Bill to parliament.
The new Law, among other things, provides for mining companies to sign community development agreements to enable communities in mining areas benefit from proceeds of mining projects.
The new Law vests ownership of the country’s resources on the State on behalf of the country’s citizens while the 1981 Act, which was formulated during the single party dictatorial era vests the resources on the Life Presidency on behalf of the people of Malawi.
Though it does not have a rich mining history, Malawi has operational mines for coal, gemstones including ruby and sapphire, limestone and quarry.
Traces of gold have continued to be discovered in areas such as Makanjira, Balaka, Lisungwe in Ntcheu, and Nanthenje and Chimutu in Lilongwe where ASMs are involved in unregulated gold panning activities.
The country has huge untapped deposits of flake graphite at Malingunde and Duwi in Lilongwe, which are being pursued by Sovereign Metals.
There are also several unexploited deposits of rare earth elements in the southern region, which include Songwe Hill in Phalombe where a UK Company Mkango Resources is conducting a feasibility study and Kangankunde Hill in Balaka which has been at the centre of a legal wrangle between the government and a South African investor Rift Valley Resources which sued the government after it rejected an application for renewal of its licence.
The Kayelekera Uranium Mine, which is so far the country’s largest mining investment, remains on care and maintenance due to prevailing low uranium prices on the world market.
Rationale for NCA’s resource governance programme
NCA says it launched its resource governance programme after studies established that the extractives industry is an increasingly economic alternative to Malawi’s dependence on tobacco citing an increase in mineral production from K21.9 billion in 2010 to K23.7-billion in 2011.
The studies indicated that despite such an increase in revenue, the government collects little revenue from the industry because of a poor taxation framework and lack of bargaining power towards the investors. Moreover, tax invasion and corruption greatly affect the sector.
The intervention of NCA and its partners is to create a just environment in the sector where it is not only the investor benefitting but affected communities have a fair share of the mining proceeds and the government as well benefits by collecting more revenue,
NCA was established in Malawi in 2002 and has a long standing history both locally and internationally for its work with civil society groups and faith based organisations through whom it has succeeded in achieving sustainable change in communities.
NCA Malawi commits itself to the vision on “Together for a Just and Healthy Society with Sustainable Livelihoods” which has been chosen as a reflection NCA’s experiences and achievements in Malawi and as an expression of future ambitions.
The overall goal of the NCA Malawi Country programme is
A society in which women, men and children control their healthy reproductive lives; institutions and individuals respect and nonviolently promote dignity and equal rights irrespective of gender; vulnerable communities and people can live safely without threats of abuse through exploitation of human and natural resources; and women and youths are secured sustainable livelihoods through entrepreneurial opportunities and employment.
To contribute towards its vision and achieve the overall goal, NCA Malawi has developed a theory of change at country level with four pathways of change in the following thematic areas; reproductive health, gender based violence and natural resource governance.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 66 (October 2018).