Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
THE Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has said illegal gold miners are causing land degradation and veld fires due to their unconventional mining methods.
The environmental watchdog said if the issue of illegal gold mining is not addressed urgently, it will compromise water quality for Bulawayo supply dams among other areas.
In an interview, EMA national spokesperson Ms Amkela Sidange said veld fires are highly prevalent in areas with huge gold deposits as panners start fires to clear bushes so that they can use gold detectors.
She said in 2017, a total of 1,3 million hectares of land was destroyed through veld fires while 1,2 million hectares was destroyed the following year.
“If you look at areas in Matabeleland South, land degradation due to gold mining activities is quite prevalent. If you go to Bulawayo water supply dams in Ncema among other areas, there is a lot of gold mining in the Ncema catchment areas which causes degradation. This will lead to siltation of those lifelines, as this is where water for Bulawayo is kept among the surrounding communities,” said Ms Sidange.
“We also cannot rule out the usage of chemicals in these mining activities and in the processing of the ore. That is going to have an impact on the water quality. We don’t want to cause alarm but eventually these are some of the things that tend to happen near water systems.”
She said six people died in 2017 while five others died in 2018 due to veld fires.
Ms Sidange said in 2017, a total of 2 705 fire incidents were recorded while the following year 1 195 cases were recorded, marking a 41 percent decrease in cases.
Ms Sidange said 62 offenders were prosecuted in 2017 and the figure dropped to 32 in 2018.
She said it is difficult for EMA to regulate the operations of illegal gold miners.
“We are recording increased fires in those areas where they clear land using fire so that they can use metal detectors to detect for gold. This is still a problem in provinces and areas that have gold in abundance. Areas like Insiza, Bubi and in Mashonaland Central, Shamva; these areas are some of the worst affected areas by veld fires,” Ms Sidange said.
EMA has embarked on awareness campaigns educating panners on dangers of using mercury while roping in the police where necessary.