Rethinking the Approach Towards Formalization of Artisanal Miners in Zimbabwe

Rethinking the Approach Towards Formalization of Artisanal Miners in Zimbabwe

By Lyman Mlambo

The Issue

The agenda to formalize the artisanal miners in Zimbabwe has been a failed initiative for several reasons. For starters, some of those involved in the agenda have not really understood what artisanal miners are and, obviously, one cannot transform what one does not know. We have lumped artisanal miners together with non-artisanal small-scale miners into artisanal and small-scale miners and ended up using artisanal mining (AM) and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) interchangeably. Artisanal miners are those small-scale miners whose operations are not licensed (not registered in accordance with the Mines and Minerals Act) and use non-conventional equipment, methods, and processes of operations. Once we are clear about this, we can design the formalization strategy that effectively targets the necessary elements.

Our formalization efforts so far have been top-down. The agenda has been taken down to the miners from offices at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development (MMMD), the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) and the Flora and Fauna section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), without consulting the miners themselves. It is not always what the authority wants that constitutes a formalized entity, but also what those being formalized want. That approach smells dogmatic and commanding. Thus, the programmes have mainly focused on efforts to licence and audit the AM sector in an effort to monitor the miners’ operations, mop up their production and enhance the national fiscus. Many artisanal miners have resisted because the programmes did not emphasize the kind of technical, financial, and service support that they need, by focusing on registration and largely marginalizing conventionalization. The two need to go hand in hand.   The top-down approach has also seen whatever little support given benefitting, not the artisanal miners, but the already existing formal small-scale miners and other new faces that have never been seen in the sector and gain entry at the opportune time because of connections, financial muscles and other factors. This sidelines the very poverty-driven miners that the formalization agenda is supposed to address.

The formulation of the agenda has also left out many other stakeholders who are relevant, even key, in the equation. The artisanal miners are based in the communities, and there is no way one can carry out a successful formalization programme without consulting the communities, community leaders, community-based organizations and local authorities. This is principally because artisanal miners already have an existing social license because they are based in the communities themselves and are often from the communities. The other thing that needs to be appreciated is that the AM sector already has its own system or value chain outside the conventional mining value chain, starting from the rudimentary exploration, through mining, processing to marketing. This system is extra-legal and semi-autonomous. The problem with the formalization agenda is to fail to recognize this extra-legal ecosystem and to take some positive aspects from it; but instead, it has sought to dismantle what is already established or to revolutionize it overnight.

The formalization agenda has also taken a blanket approach. It has assumed that the artisanal miners are at the same level of or stage of formality or informality. Some artisanal miners are almost formalized while some are at the very tail end (entry point). The approach should be flexible enough to take these differences into account, by stock-taking the miners and applying different approaches to different categories appropriately. Talking about the stage of formality, it strikes this author that the artisanal miners are probably not really represented as it is apparently not effective for the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF), which operate based on membership and non-mobility of the members, to represent them. Artisanal miners are highly mobile. It is also important to keep the ZMF approach down-to-earth, and not elitist, as the latter attitude is not consistent with serving the interests of the very poor miner who is trying to find livelihood in the AM sector. The ZMF should not operate like some Chamber of Mines representing large-scale miners, no matter how significant the small-scale miners’ production becomes relative to their large-scale counterparts.

Proposals on the Right Approach to Formalization of Artisanal Miners

We need to start by appreciating the distinction between formal small-scale miners and artisanal miners. The author has proffered a definition of artisanal miners in the above section and indicated that this definition aids programme targeting. There is need for a national baseline study of the AM sector to design an appropriate agenda. This baseline will address the numbers that we are talking about, areas of operations, minerals being mined, actual equipment and methods being used in the various processes, the kind of deposits the miners exploit, the constraints the miners face, the problems the miners cause, the push factors that offload people into the AM sector, the pull factors that attract people into the sector, the visible and not-so-visible actors in the sector, the sector’s extra-legal (unwritten) rules and structures, the formal features that exist in the sector which may not need to be dismantled, the level of integration of the AM sector with the rural economic and social fabric, and so forth. In short, there is need to profile the AM sector.

A clear policy specifically addressing this sector should be crafted, which clearly articulates the objectives of government in its intervention in this sector and its intervention strategies. This should be based on the baseline. The policy should then be followed by a clear separate legislative instrument or amendment to existing legislation that gives clear and fair regulations and processes on formalization. This also should be based on the baseline. The policy and legislation on, and the actual implementation of formalization should be designed in consultation with all stakeholders (they should be inclusive). Most importantly, the approach should be bottom-up and not top-down, so that it considers the baseline and benefits the proper artisanal miners. It should address both licensing and support issues (constraints and problems faced or existing in the sector). It should emphasize more on building the sector than on realizing immediate economic (precisely, pecuniary) benefits for the government or national fiscus. Building the sector results in long-term benefits for the country. The agenda should be implemented consistently and in a coordinated manner. It is confusing to miners when one agency criminalizes them, and another decriminalizes them. For example, it is not useful for ZRP and EMA to arrest or criminalize the miners, while the MMMD and RBZ indicate that the same miners are decriminalized.

The strategy should ensure that there are net benefits to the artisanal miners because formalization comes with compliance costs (fees, etc) – these costs should be outweighed by the benefits. Apart from reducing these compliance costs for the AM sector at the start, there is need for a host of interventions by the authorities as well as other support agencies, including CSOs. There is need for land access and geological intervention – the need to create a database of deposits appropriate for artisanal miners in their current form through regional exploration as well as improved access to land for prospecting. This can be blended well with the use-it-or-lose-it policy, so that some land that is locked in EPOs gets released for AM sector. Further technical support is required in the form of training on mining and mineral processing skills to improve efficiency and environmental sustainability. This intervention can be integrated with equipment leasing, hire or hire purchase, banking facilities, and other technical support by creation of integrated regional service centres throughout the country. Financial assistance should also include training in financial literacy.

Lastly, there is need for capacity building of institutions that support, represent, design programmes for, monitor or render any kind of support to the AM sector. The capacity of the government to execute its responsibility towards the AM sector as well as that for different agencies to coordinate their efforts should not be taken for granted. The article has already alluded to the lack of coordination in the current formalization efforts. The need to build the capacity of representative bodies is critical because they are central to the success of the formalization agenda for example, in building trust among artisanal miners, and in effective management, consultation, dialogue and information exchange.

(Lyman Mlambo is the Executive Director of LMS Mining Consultancy. This article was first presented by this author in a Zoom meeting hosted on 03 June 2022 by the Centre for Research for Peace and Development in Africa, CRPDA, under the title How has formalization of Artisanal Miners been a failed initiative and proffer ways to make it a success. The current article incorporates small changes)


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