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AMN - Let’s work together on artisanal mining – comment by Yolanda Torrisi

Yol headshot May 2011

The sad loss of life in mine disasters in Zimbabwe and Liberia in recent weeks has highlighted the dangers artisanal miners face in the continent and across the world. Artisanal mining is a factor for the mining industry in the vast majority of African countries.

Zimbabwean colleagues of informal workers at Battlefields in Mashonaland West province put the potential death toll at more than 100 people.

Besides the artisanal miners let into the various shafts at the Silvermoon and Cricket mines, panners were known to access the ground as they collected gravels that might contain gold.

Twenty-four bodies were recovered and Zimbabwe’s parliamentarians spoke of 33 deaths. Local government minister July Moyo estimated between 60 and 70 deaths.

Up in Liberia, about 40 miners were still trapped underground at Kartee gold mines in Gboanipea near Tapita in Nimba county last week.

Previous mine disasters in other parts of Africa have cost the lives of numerous unauthorised miners.

But in finding a solution, governments and the mining industry must take an open mind. Banning the practise of artisanal mining is not a practical solution because it is not enforceable.

Two hundred and fifty families made a living at each shaft at Battlefields. And more widely, Zimbabwe’s 500,000 miners produce 22 tons of gold a year — double the output of its large-scale miners.

We cannot stop the practice people already adopt to make a living knowing the risks. Let’s instead acknowledge artisanal mining as a fact of life and ensure that governments and companies play an active role in legitimising the practice.

Let’s do what Zimbabwe’s Parliamentarian Dexter Nduna has suggested, regulate and recognise the artisanal mining industry. Let’s roll out better regulations and let’s work together to improve the safety and security of miners and their families

In Latin America and Mongolia 10 artisanal and small-mine organisations from four countries are certified to a standard developed by the Alliance for Responsible Mining. Known as the Fairmined certification it creates opportunities for the miners who can also seek ecological certification.

Let’s take a new leaf out of Ghana’s book and re-embrace the practice so we can strive to minimise the loss of life and the negative effects some miners face from doing their own mining and processing.

The loss of every life to a mine disaster is a tragedy and one we must work actively to avoid. Let’s embrace artisanal mining to ensure safer practice and value lives and communities.

- Yolanda Torrisi is Chairperson of The African Mining Network and comments on African mining issues and the growing global interest in the continent. Contact:yolanda@yolandatorrisi.com