RULING Zanu PF politicians are pulling out all the stops to mobilise five million votes for President Emmerson Mnangagwa in polls set for 2023, including spearheading a spurt of illegal gold mining activities in Penhalonga, Manicaland, while exposing surrounding communities to life threatening environmental hazards, investigations have shown.
The Zimbabwe Independent this week unearthed illegal activities by youths linked to the ruling party, who have parcelled out gold-mining claims to aspiring candidates in the area.
Zanu PF acting party spokesperson Mike Bimha said this week the party expected beneficiaries to respect the law.
The Independent visited FNT Mining Syndicate, a beneficiary of the programme, where it discovered unchecked use of harmful chemicals to process gold ore.
The chemicals include cyanide, mercury and caustic soda.
Milling sites in the area are unprotected and expose people and livestock to toxic chemicals.
FNT owner John Madhanzi is an aspiring MP for Mutasa South constituency, which was left vacant after the recall of MDC legislator Regai Tsunga.
The syndicate is also operating on St Augustine’s High School grounds.
“We use cyanide and caustic soda to purify our gold. The chemicals are harmful and can kill, so we prohibit contact of any sort,” Madhanzi told the Independent.
At FNT, at least 40 employees are exposed to the chemicals. They are not provided with protective clothing nor do they abide by health and safety measures.
On operating without an EIA report, Madhanzi said the syndicate has a mandate to reclaim the constituency from the MDC.
Mines and Mining Development Deputy minister Polite Kambamura told the Independent yesterday that they would soon dispatch a team to investigate.
“Thanks for letting us know. Our inspectorate team will be on the ground to investigate this and put corrective measures,” Kambamura said.
A report published by the Centre for Research and Development (CRD) shows that there are 129 hammer mills and six cyanidation sites illegally processing gold in the area.
The plants are operating in violation of Statutory Instrument (SI) 258 of 2018 Environmental Management (Control of Alluvial Mining) (Amendment) Regulations.
The SI prohibits processing and washing plants, ore stockpiles, slime dams or setting ponds constructed within 500 metres from river banks or highest flood line of any water source.
In its report copied to various government departments and security arms, CRD implored responsible authorities to clamp down on illegal gold processing in Penhalonga and surrounding communities.
The report also noted illegal gold mining and processing at Toronto, a farming community opposite Hillcrest College, where six hammer mills were illegally processing gold ore along a tributary stream that flows into Mutare River.
On another site, just after Imbeza Turn-Off, one out of the 24 hammer mills operating there had mud from cyanidation tailings flowing into Imbeza River.
Similar sites were discovered at Sithole Farm next to Tsvingwe Secondary School, along Tsambe River — less than 500 metres from Tsvingwe medium-density suburb, and at St Augustine High School among others.
“A closer look at the milling sites showed toxic waste from makeshift ponds flowing into river streams. Contaminated soils around the milling plants were also transmitting toxins to the environment through soil erosion,” the report states.
The CDR concluded that the illegal mining processes were contaminating the environment through water and air pollution and exposing thousands of Tsvingwe residents and downstream communities to deadly toxins.
Officials from EMA, Ministry of Mines, police and residents convened a meeting on November 9 to find ways of dealing with the scourge.
However, Zanu PF Mutasa district coordinating committee secretary for youth and Ward 22 councillor Cleopas Samanga has vowed to block the exercise.
“No clampdown will take place while we are here (Penhalonga, Tsambe area). They can arrest us but no one will touch these mining syndicates here,” Samanga declared.
“These claims are here to ensure that Zanu PF gets its five million votes and if you proceed to push them out they will not vote favourably for the ruling party.”
Samanga reportedly operates up to six unregulated hammer mills together with other provincial party stalwarts.
“Yes, I have gold (claims). Instead of asking whether I have papers, the authorities should come and give me the papers to regularise not to ask me nonsense,” he said.
Samanga and another party member also manhandled Clinton Masanga, director of Penhalonga Youth Development Trust, which co-authored the CRD report.
“I no longer feel safe because they threatened to mobilise youths and attack me at home. They know where I live,” he said.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Wiseman Chinyoka expressed ignorance about the reports.
EMA provincial education and publicity officer Alice Rutsvara confirmed that the authority and other stakeholders were conducting an operation in the area.
She, however, promised to provide more details when the operation is complete.
Provincial Mines Director (PMD) Tafumanei Mugandani said there were both registered and unregistered gold claims.
“The answer might not be an umbrella, but basically we do have registered claims in that area. But from what happened last week (CRD report), there might be some illegal (claims). So it’s on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Mugandani said his office was seeking approval to respond to the queries from the Independent, but had not responded to the questions at the time of writing.
Sources within the institutions said Penhalonga has become ungovernable with Zanu PF heavyweights sponsoring the illegal gold activities.
“There is nothing that they (officials) or police can do. The crisis in Penhalonga is beyond them,” the source said.
“The syndicates do not have any paperwork but they are all operating and protected by top Zanu PF members, so they are untouchable.”
It was further established that EMA only issued fines to four illegal hammer-mill operators visited following the CRD report.
But CRD also expressed concern that the clampdown was mysteriously called off.
The research further revealed that with politically-connected individuals operating in the area, there was genuine fear among government officials of political victimisation.
Penhalonga is surrounded by farming communities with a lot of livestock and accumulation of toxic metals in them threatens food security and public health.
On November 7, dead fish were discovered in Tsambe River, where there is a heavy presence of illegal hammer mills and cyanidation sites.