Minister halts extraction of gold in Gache-Gache

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MINES minister Walter Chidhakwa has stopped the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) from mining gold in the Gache-Gache area of Kariba where deposits worth millions of dollars were discovered, advising the firm to wait for an environmental impact assessment approval.

By Hazel Ndebele

Gold deposits along Gache-Gache River were discovered by a private company, Townsend Enterprises, which was last year sub-contracted by the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) to supply sand to Chinese firm Sino Hydro for the construction of Kariba South Power Station from a concession on the river.

The company then informed Chidhakwa of the discovery before writing a letter requesting a special grant but the government never responded. Government then announced through the State media that it had discovered gold deposits in the area before moving to mine.

ZCDC purchased gold recovery equipment worth US$173 000 and began extracting gold without approval from the Environmental Management Agency (Ema).

A document by the Ministry of Mines on Mineral Beneficiation and Value confirms that the ZCDC had begun mining.

“The ministry engaged all relevant stakeholders including Ema and the Rural District Council for necessary approvals to conduct mining activities,” reads the document. “Production of gold is now taking place, it has since emerged that economic quantities of platinum and palladium are also present. Testing for other minerals is ongoing.”
However, Chidhakwa in an interview with this paper this week said the ZCDC was waiting for Ema’s authorisation and he had since stopped production.

“Indeed, the team had started production of gold. However, when I visited the place I told them to stop the production and first do an environmental impact assessment report, therefore production will have to resume after that has been done,” he said.

Government sources told the Independent that Townsend had also approached Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya.

However, the governor advised the company to deal with the Mines ministry.

In a desperate bid to get a special dispensation grant to recover the gold in the sand used for construction, the company also approached Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and wrote a letter to the Office of the President but the letter has not been responded to.

According to the Ministry of Mines document, government turned down Townsend’s requests because riverbed mining is exclusively reserved for government. Government in 2014 banned alluvial mining on riverbeds, banks, wetlands and any land within 200 metres of naturally defined banks. This was done through Statutory Instrument 92 of 2014, Environmental Management (Control of Alluvial Mining) Regulations.

According to sources, the lack of a special dispensation for Townsend is costing the country millions of dollars.

“The country is losing an estimated three kilogrammes per day to the dam wall,” said a source. The international price of gold is currently pegged at US$40 000 per kilogramme.

The private company which has approval from Ema for being at the site is now gradually being forced out of the area to make way for the ZCDC. However, sources say the ZCDC will be interfering with Townsend’s contractual responsibilities which are to excavate, wash and deliver sand to Sino Hydro.

However, the ministry of Mines says there will be no interference.

“By mid-April 2016 the project team had confirmed and recommended the practicability of installing a gold recovery outfit in the existing Townsend circuit that would neither interfere with the sand washing operations nor compromise on the final product quality,” reads the document.

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