Unprecedented Gold Rush Threatens Nkayi’s River System, People’s Lives

For a village in Nkayi, gold panners on the shores of their rivers are adding salt to a festering wound.

In addition to being at the centre of socio-economic poverty and neglect, Nkayi villagers living on the shores of Shangani dam are yet in another dilemma with gold panners that have invaded their river in search of gold. Gold planners allegedly from Midlands province are said to have descended on the area close to the after significant gold deposits were discovered soon after the government imposed a national lockdown to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in March last year.

Large numbers of people have been trekking to the area within the Nkayi district much to the chagrin of the local community, which fears that their water sources are already polluted with dangerous chemicals such as mercury.

For Sibonile Ndlovu (57), a widow from Nkuba village under chief Tshugulu, their presence is disrupting their way of life. “They came last year during the COVID-19 lockdown and they just don’t care about what people are going to survive on when they leave.” says Ndlovu.

“We rely on this river for our irrigation projects to feed our children while it is also our source of water to drink, but ever since they descended, we have been forced to drink contaminated water and even our irrigation scale have reduced as the river water levels reduce at a fast speed.”

Ndlovu’s neighbour says the group has marked its territory and thus causing conflicts between the community societies and the unregistered miners. “They don’t allow people to fetch water or send their livestock to drink where they mine from,” Nkosiyabo Donga says.

“The challenge we face is that we hear that drinking water that has mercury or other substances they use to mine gold is dangerous and we think that is evident because we used to fish at some certain points of the river during grazing and since last year, all those fisheries can be hardly found.”

Ndlovu who survived on farming vegetables for resale at the Nkayi business centre says she has been forced to drop the business as it has become dangerous to frequent the local river when the panners are available.“At times they fight on their own, and often threaten villagers to vacate the river to save lives, we are intimidated yet the options are limited.”

Other affected villagers are from Mkhalandoda, Mawuwini, Mathetshaneni and Sibuyu.They say they fear for their livestock even more as water has been contaminated. The area’s kraal head, Misomi Gwebu says villagers now opt for dam water and boreholes, although during the summer period they tend to dry up.

According to a November 24, 2020 report on the turmoil in Zimbabwe’s gold mining sector by the International Crisis Group (ICG), the collapsing economy and the COVID-19 induced lockdown has seen an estimated 1.5 million people turning to artisanal mining as a safety net. ICG says the trend will likely persist as COVID-19 brings additional hardship and spurs urban to rural migration.

Matabeleland North Province police spokesperson Inspector Glory Banda says they will investigate the issue before giving a full police position.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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