Illegal mining is sinking this Zimbabwean town

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File image.  (Photo by Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Getty Images)
File image. (Photo by Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Getty Images)
  • A small mining town in Zimbabwe's midlands is falling apart as illegal miners spread their reach under roads and buildings.
  • The government says it will carry out a geospatial survey in Kwekwe to avoid total destruction.
  • The town, established in 1898, sits on some of the richest gold deposits in the country.

A school has been shut down in one of Zimbabwe's oldest towns due to environmental degradation by artisanal and illegal miners who continue to dig tunnels under roads, schools, and buildings in the central business district.

There are fears that many more public infrastructures and roads could be closed, while the government announced it would conduct a geospatial survey in the area and possibly other parts of the town to avoid total destruction.

"Fears are that the prevailing situation may be a pointer to a greater disaster and people might be in great danger.

"There is a need for mining engineers to look at the whole system that is prevailing in Kwekwe as a whole," said local government and public works minister July Moyo.

Kwekwe, a small mining town in Zimbabwe's midlands, was established in 1898.

READ | Mining sinkhole swallows Zimbabwe classroom, 17 injured

It sits on some of the richest gold deposits in the country and for years the government has been concerned that one day the town could collapse into the ground.

The rich gold deposits are a source of violent conflict between gangs such as the machete-wielding "Mashurugwi" from Shurugwi, a town about 100km south of Kwekwe, and a local outfit calling itself Al Shabab.

According to numerous reports, the two groups are linked to the political elite that control the underground gold syndicates.

They are a law unto themselves, and despite numerous meetings by the country's security cluster to deal with this menace, it rages on unabated.

Once, machetes and other weapons were banned in Kwekwe in an attempt to contain violent clashes but nothing changed.

In the past year, a new belt was discovered at a disused mine that had some of the richest deposits in the town.

The Globe and Phoenix Mine is found on the western edge of Kwekwe, just one hundred metres from the central business.

It's a seasonal 'El Dorado'.

During its peak, according to government records, it was the second-highest gold producer in the country, only second to the Cam and Motor Mine in Kadoma about 40km north.

Most of the development in Kwekwe was because of the Globe and Phoenix Mine which opened around the same time the town was established.

The areas around the mine are a seasonal go-to area for artisanal miners that use rudimentary tools and techniques that are not environmentally friendly.

Late last year, they started digging tunnels at the Paper House, which was colonialist Cecil John Rhodes' home when he was in the area.

Artisanal miners also did not spare the "royal palace", a stone's throw away, reportedly digging under it last year.

The late British Queen Elizabeth II stayed there when she visited what was then Southern Rhodesia.

The pits go well into some premises in the city and in some instances, form unknown underground routes.

Kwekwe town clerk Lucia Mkandla has in the past notified the police about these mining activities.

In one council report, a resident Rosemary Adolfo told of how the artisanal miners made her home an island.

"My family can’t even go out of the yard in a car, because they have dug right by the gate."

She was quoted as saying in the council report:

At this rate, we may not even be able to walk out of the yard. We have done all we can to have the problem addressed, but nothing is materialising. We have approached many officers who have told us that their hands are tied to deal with the matter.

The collapse of a classroom block at Globe and Phoenix primary school injuring 18 pupils on Wednesday was long feared.

Last year in June, officials from the ministry of mines and mining development and the Environmental Management Agency and other stakeholders went to the school to assess the dangers posed.

At the time, they found an early childhood development classroom abandoned because teachers were afraid it would collapse.

During the tour, they discovered some pits dug inside some classrooms. 

Isaac Bvupajena, the school's headmaster, appealed for the school to be relocated because it had become a danger.

Martin Mafara, who was the Midlands mines and explosives officer, was tasked with preparing a report that was going to be sent to the government through the Civil Protection Union (CPU).

The collapse of the classroom has since forced the government to shut down the school, affecting about 1 500 pupils. 

Some of the pupils will be integrated into Sally Mugabe Primary School a few kilometres away while others will learn inside tents at Globe and Phoenix.

"The school will be shut down for good. It's a danger to students," said CPU director Nathan Nkomo.

He added that some buildings needed to be inspected to avoid a similar or worse situation because underground pits run into the city centre.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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