Red flag raised over illegal hammer mills, cyanidation sites
By Edward Mukaro
THE Penhalonga community has raised alarm over the uncontrolled reckless use of dangerous chemicals by the mushrooming hammer mills and cyanidation sites whose activities pose health hazards in the Eastern Highlands.
Despite the activities being outlawed by the country’s law under S.I 258 of 2018 Environmental Management (Control of Alluvial Mining) (Amendment) Regulations which prohibits processing plants, ore stockpiles, slime dams or settling ponds to be constructed within 500 metres from the river bank or the highest flood line of any water source.
According to documents from the Center for Research and Development Zimbabwe that are currently in possession of The BusinessConnect newspaper, the Penhalonga community has raised a red flag on the unscrupulous operations of these illegal gold processing plants, whose operations are continuing under the Environmental Management Agency’s nose, despite the dire health consequences on human lives.
In a letter written to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, signed by the CDR, Penhalonga Youth Development Trust and Penhalonga Residents and Rate Payers Trust in efforts to get the issue to a higher authority, the group highlighted the extent to which the situation was getting out of hand with no meaningful solution to end the illegal mining and gold processing activities halted before a major health catastrophe hits the community.
“…We established that the illegal millers were processing gold ore using mercury. We noticed that the milling sites were unprotected, exposing people and livestock to toxic chemicals. Our closer look at the sites milling sites showed toxic waste from makeshift ponds flowing into water streams.
“More so, contaminated soils around the milling plants were transmitting toxins to the environment through soil erosion. We also observed that deadly chemicals from cyanidation tanks were also being released into the environment through vaporisation.
“We came to the conclusion that these illegal milling processes were contaminating the environment through water and air pollution exposing thousands of Tsvingwe residents and downstream communities to deadly toxins,” read the letter.
However, the human rights body was not impressed by EMA’s stance after notification by residents and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) of the illegal operations by the gold processing plants, which are allegedly linked to the powerful political elite in the country.
“The research (CRD on Human Rights IMPACTS of Gold Mining Operations Around Penhalonga) also indicate that these illegal operations are owned by individuals connected to political elites and state security operatives hence the fear of political victimisation by regulatory authorities to affect the rule of law in the area.
“It is however disturbing to note that today EMA issued 4 (four) tickets for 72 000 Zimbabwe dollars to each of the 4 illegal hammer mill operators that the team visited instead of shutting down their operations. The CRD is also disturbed to know that the operations were mysteriously called off as soon as they had started,” stated the human rights watchdog.
Penhalonga, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Ministry of Mines and Mutasa Rural District Council kick-started an operation intended on removing illegal gold processing plants that have mushroomed around Penhalonga. The activity was in response to citizens’ demand for accountability around gold mining in Penhalonga. The action was informed by ongoing research by CRD on the human rights impacts of gold mining operations around Penhalonga.
Information gathered so far by residents and organisations in Penhalonga shows that there is the uncontrolled use of mercury and cyanide in illegal gold hammer mills and cyanidation processing makeshift structures that are seeping into community rivers and areas of human settlement around Penhalonga.