By Lerato Ndlovu
The government is pushing for measures to curb and stop the use of mercury by artisanal miners across the country as per the Minamata Convention statute.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury, establishes mandatory measures to curb mercury use and pollution, focusing on Article 7 of the Convention it stipulates that governments must create National Action Plans to reduce and where feasible eliminate mercury use in artisanal gold mining, a rapidly growing informal sector in much of Africa, with strategies to be monitored by the Convention Secretariat.
Zimbabwe has been a member since 2013 and the National Action Plan for artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector (ASGM) developed by the country in 2019 states that underground and open-pit gold mining were more dominant than alluvial gold mining along rivers in the ASGM hotspots.
“Gold extraction from ore using the mercury amalgamation process was predominantly done on concentrates after milling and gravity separation, underground and open-pit gold mining were more dominant than alluvial gold mining along rivers in the ASGM hotspots.
“It was however established that the poor extent of formalisation of the ASGM sector is one of the key challenges that has given rise to noncompliance of ASGM players to the existing legal provisions that could considerably reduce mercury emissions, lack of effective organisational structures that efficiently represent the needs of miners in the ASGM sector was found to have paralysed previous government efforts to address the sector.
“There has been a gradual increase in gold production from the formal and semi-formalised gold miners in the small-scale mining sector,” it reads.
“The survey established the need to raise awareness on the dangers and proper use of mercury, and to address identified myths that endanger the miners and mining community health care systems”.
The Convention requires signatory governments to establish actions to eradicate the four most hazardous practices of mercury usage in ASGM: whole ore amalgamation, open burning of amalgam or processed amalgam; burning of amalgam in residential areas; and cyanide leaching of ore or tailings to which mercury has been added.
Of late organisations such as Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and government ministries namely Mines and Mining Development and Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry have been conducting safe and sustainable mining awareness campaigns around the country starting on the dangers of mining, safe mining methods and explaining the Minamata Convention while in turn reduce mine related accidents and deaths.
EMA publicity manager Mrs Amkela Sidange said the organisation is aiming to reduce adverse effects of mercury in line with the Convention that aims to protect human health and the environment.
“We are responsible for regulating mercury, storage, usage and it’s a war that we should conquer through reducing its usage by artisanal miners, for it is dangerous to both human and animal lives.
“We are trying our best to get in touch with the miners and educate them on the correct measures to take, it is a process but we always hope for the best results,’’ she said.
Through interviews done by the reporter in areas around Banket and Chinhoyi, the miners stated that they touch mercury with bare hands.
“We are grateful for the campaigns being done by the government and EMA, conscientising us on the effects of mercury. We did not know how it damages the body system, but we had colleagues complaining of not being well and blamed it on the excessive work we did not know it was the chemical.
“Before this we would just touch the chemical with bare hands even before the gold purification process, because it seemed easier to use,” the artisanal miners said.
“Our fear now is on the impact it may have already done in our lives yet we used it negligently, our hope is that the same team that sat down to discuss the effects also sits and finds ways of assisting those who might be affected already”.
“Some of our colleagues do not have such information with them, due to fear of meeting with officials because they operate illegally hence they might be at risk unknowingly, more should be done to ensure that the message reaches them too”.
Health practitioners stated that the chemical is dangerous in the sense that it can be inhaled or touched and can easily affect the human system causing Minamata disease, nervous breakdown, erectile dysfunction, still and deformed births.
‘This article was produced with the financial support of WAN-IFRA Media Freedom. Its contents are the sole responsibility of <Lerato Ndlovu/BustopTV> and do not necessarily reflect the views of the WAN-IFRA Media Freedom,WAN-IFRA FR, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.’