Penhalonga, ‘the place that shines’: Artisanal mining In Zimbabwe

19 April 2021

In Zimbabwe Penhalonga means ‘the place that shines’.

Gold mining has a long history in the area near the Mozambique border, stretching back over a hundred years.

Today, there’s a new gold rush.

The Redwing Mine is the only large-scale mine in the area, but there are dozens of smaller operators around Penhalonga and nearby Tsvingwe, and hundreds of unlicensed artisanal miners.

Competing claims between large and small-scale miners and the competition for land between farmers and miners has led to conflict and fuelled corruption.

Many artisanal miners have been pushed into mining by poverty and the loss of their agricultural land to mining. Many find themselves vulnerable to dangerous conditions, violence, and extortion because of their illegal status. This exploitation can be worse for women – there are claims that women have been forced to take part in sextortion by officials in exchange for permission to mine. While it is not illegal to be an artisanal miner, obtaining a permit can be very difficult.

‘The problem in trying to get a license is that there are many offices you need to visit and this information you only get to know about it when you are being fined,’ explained a miner from Penhalonga.  ‘[The information] is not given beforehand. It is only when you are told that you are violating a certain law that you should have visited [the District] Council for approval and [the] Environmental Management Agency.’

‘The registration process [for artisanal miners] should not be cumbersome’, says Fadzai Jekemu, Legal and Policy officer for Transparency International Zimbabwe. ‘It should be something that can be done in a week.’

The cumbersome process also creates corruption risks. The time and difficulty in assembling the necessary documents, and an unwieldy paper trail that can be hard to trace, create an environment where bribery can flourish. The difficulty in navigating this process means people can be locked out by constant requests for additional documents unless they provide favours or bribes. The high demand for mining licences also leads to a high chance that aspiring artisanal miners will be expected to pay a bribe to get a more profitable allocation of land. Sometimes, because of errors in the manual system used to allocate land, people have been granted access to the same mining plot – leading to conflict.

It is no surprise that many choose to forego registration and sell directly to unscrupulous buyers, which fuels the illicit gold market.

While unregistered artisanal miners can sell to Fidelity Printers – the main official gold buyer in Zimbabwe – if the police catch them doing so, they can be penalised for not having a licence.

TI Zimbabwe wants a streamlined and digitised process for the registration of artisanal mining licenses. This is a simple and effective way to avoid the unwieldy and more corruption-prone process of paper trails and face-to-face discussions that can be exposed to bribery.  A digital register of land claims that is easily publicly accessible would also be a simple and effective way to ensure people have been allocated a plot fairly and stop conflicts over mining claims.

‘Furthermore,’ says Fadzai Jekemu, ‘they should be able to report corruption and misconduct anonymously – especially important for a small town where they all know each other.’

By supporting artisanal miners to apply for formal licences and have better avenues for voicing their concerns, TI Zimbabwe is working to make the process fairer and cleaner. They are working to close the loopholes in the system that enable corruption to occur, leading to less conflict, safer mining practices, and reducing the flow-on effects of illicit gold trading.

Photo: TI Zimbabwe