SEVERAL mining areas and former towns that used to host Zimbabwe’s main ventures have since been destroyed due to years of neglect and this has created a fertile ground for all sorts of transgressions.
Gold mines have proven to be difficult places to visit as everyone in those areas is suspicious when a new face or vehicle rolls into the area.
The youths loitering at shopping centres and corner stores always treat any stranger with a great deal of suspicion. It is like a war situation.
Law enforcement agencies and rogue gold dealers frequenting the place have made life difficult for the community. Gold mines of late have been prone to armed robberies while violence has become a daily bread.
That is the welcome language experienced by visitors at Redwing Mine in Penhalonga about 50 kilometres west of Zimbabwe’s Eastern border city of Mutare.
Redwing was one of Zimbabwe's largest gold-producing mines under the Metallon group, which also owned Shamva, Mazowe, Arcturus and How Mines. Shamva and Arcturus have since been sold.
Redwing and Mazowe have been left derelict with artisanal gold miners invading the mines.
Instead of the thriving community of yesteryear, Penhalonga, and Redwing, in particular, have been reduced to a community of vice, social ills, environmental destruction, crime and general decay of infrastructure.
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A recent investigation by the Zimbabwe Independent revealed a community that has been left desperate and in despair.
The mine has been invaded by artisanal miners whose lifestyle has also lured children from the community at the same time ditching their education exploits.
The community has also been left divided as anger continues to boil against the conduct of politicians. The whole community is laden with divisions.
It is difficult to tie down an ordinary resident to an interview but there are community leaders that have vowed to bring sanity to the mine.
The Zimbabwe Independent sat down with Clinton Tapiwa Masanga, the director of the Penhalonga Youth Development Trust and he had no kind words for current investors at Redwing Mine, Better Brands.
Better Brands is linked to the Zanu PF politician and businessman Scott Pedzisayi Sakupwanya.
“From the onset, the community rejected the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Better Brands because we felt the project was not sustainable for the community,” Masanga said.
“We have issues with social ills that are associated with Penhalonga these days. The structure being used by Better Brands in recruiting is not what the community was expecting.
“Better Brands is recruiting and some of their workers do not have national identity cards and no one knows where they come from,” he said.
Masanga also claimed that Better Brands employees form part of the problem behind social ills including child pregnancies.
“We don’t know them and when they commit crimes they disappear. There is also an increase in robbery cases while crime rates have generally increased and we are not happy with the new owners of the mine,” he said.
“There is also the issue of high accident rates and deaths because Better Brands does not follow safety measures that are required by the laws of the country.
“When the investor moved in many of us hailed the project thinking that it would provide employment for local youths but now young people are dying while some are dropping out of school to start gold mining activities,” Masanga said.
He said the company is not playing its role in enabling responsible mining.
“There is chaos and what we seek is sanity. We want the project to resume underground where it is safe and does not disturb the ecosystem or environment with no land degradation,” Masanga said.
“Surface mining being undertaken is not sustainable and some geologists have confirmed our fears because the ground is putting people in danger.”
He said some people who lost their lives at the mine were from neighbouring Mozambique.
“A fatal accident happened last year and the deceased was from Mozambique and had no identity particulars. We also know that there are unclaimed bodies at Mutare General Hospital and we are certain that some of the bodies are from Redwing Mine,” Masanga said.
He also claimed that some individuals, who are either politically connected or name-dropping have been benefiting from uncontrolled mining activities in the area.
“There are people who have set up several illegal hammer mills leading to cyanide and mercury pollution. As a community group, we are advocating for good governance in natural resources,” Masanga said.
“Mutasa Rural District Council has no source of revenue except taxing residents when we have big projects like Redwing. We are calling for a structure where the community benefits.”
He further noted that Redwing Mine, at its peak, produced between 35kgs and 45kgs and the community benefitted.
Redwing Mine was in January this year closed by the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) following reports of the deaths of scores of artisanal miners.
Better Brands was allegedly defying the authority’s directive to halt operations until some civic groups threatened to demonstrate at the mine.
Three civic groups comprised of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), Ziva Community Empowerment Trust (ZCET), and Penhalonga Youth Development Ratepayers Trust (PYDRT), issued a joint statement in January claiming that 100 artisanal died at the mine since 2020.
Better Brands eventually announced its intention to suspend operations in compliance with Ema’s directives.
Despite the hullabaloo around the matter, Better Brands insisted that it was forced to temporarily close Redwing Mine in Penhalonga to focus on strategies to shut out illegal mining operations.
Better Brands chief executive Cuthbert Chitima was not available to shed light on the progress made in adhering to the Ema recommendation.
However, Better Brands mine manager Alexio Guyo recently told the media that they closed the mine so as to have 100% access control of the people entering the mine. He also blamed politics as the source of controversy at the mine.
Meanwhile, local Zanu PF legislator Moses Mugadza said the local leadership was monitoring progress at the mine to ensure that the Ema directive is followed.
“We are satisfied with the progress that the investor has made in rehabilitating the mine as prescribed by Ema and I think the progress recorded so far is at 90%. We expect the mine to start operating soon under the conditions prescribed by Ema,” he said.
CRD director James Mupfumi told the Independent that the community has engaged the government to find a lasting solution.
“The community has also interacted with Parliament portfolio committees of mines and defence in their investigation visits in 2021 and 2022. Community including mine workers are demanding that miners be summoned to appear before Parliament and made to account for the transgressions,” Mupfumi said.
Ema spokesperson for Manicaland Alice Rutsvara did not respond to questions sent by the Independent indicating that she was travelling. Operations at Redwing have, in recent years, been challenged and stopped through various court applications.
The Centre for National Resources Governance (CNRG) also filed a petition to Parliament demanding to know if Ema was monitoring environmental compliance at the mine.