The level of disorganised mining at Metallon’s Redwing Mining Company, one of Zimbabwe’s largest gold assets has reached an alarming level, exposing illegal miners to a very big risk to safety and causing serious environmental degradation.
Redwing is one of the gold mines owned by Mzi Khumalo’s Metallon, alongside How Mine near Bulawayo and Mazowe Gold Mine.
It is currently under judicial management.
But gold dealer, Scott Sakupwanya, through his investment vehicle Betterbrands Mining Company is in charge of the operations. It is not clear if there is a formal agreement between judicial manager, Knowledge Hofisi and Sakupanya.
Last year, Hofisi stopped all mining operations of Betterbrands to allow the implementation of a deal, which the gold mining firm had signed with a new investor, Duatlet.
Betterbrands was also part of the Duatlet consortium with the other two investors. Hofisi terminated the deal on the basis that the new investor had failed to meet conditions precedent, but it remains unclear how Betterbrands returned to the mining site.
Thousands of peasant miners have set up makeshift mines around the processing plant, located in Penhalonga, about 50 kilometres west of Mutare.
They are digging shafts in search of the ore, without observing any safety measures.
The area has become a death trap as no efforts are being made to fill in the disused shafts or erect danger warning signs on the abandoned mines.
Viewing the mining site from a small township of Penhalonga resembles a shanty settlement.
“Those are all mining sites,” said Jonas Sithole, a miner from Chipinge.
“Just get closer and see for yourself.” During a tour around the mining site, thousands of miners could be seen with rudimentary tools − working under extremely dangerous conditions.
“We work for Betterbrands; we do the mining and take the ore for processing at the plant,” said Tinashe Rujewa, a miner from Murehwa, a district 250 km from the mine.
“After milling, we get 50 percent of the value of the gold but on the condition of reaching a minimum of 10 grammes.
“ If you fail to reach that minimum threshold, then you have to go back to the mining field to extract more, it is very exploitative.”
Another miner said they are often harassed by “security” when suspected to be taking the ore to rival millers.
“Sometimes we are beaten up by the Betterbrands security or taken to police where we are forced to pay fines,” the miner, who declined to be identified for fear of victimisation said;
“To reach the gold belt, we have to dig deeper; sometimes up to 40 metres. It’s too dangerous but that is how we are surviving.
“We are being exploited but we have no options; we need to survive, and we need to take care of our families.”
There are also hundreds of children, mostly young boys working at the mine.
“It’s true, we many of them; working in the tunnels; there is nothing like child labour,” the miner, leading a syndicate of other seven said. Business Weekly verified the claim.
“I work under my boss,” said a 12-year boy who cannot be named because of age.
“I left school when I was doing Form One.
“No one could pay fees for me. It’s hard labour, but we are now used,” the boy added.
Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Manicaland province, Cde Nokuthula Matsikenyere said she was not aware of the “situation” at Redwing and referred this paper to ruling Zanu PF Secretary for Finance Patrick Chinamasa.
Several calls seeking comment from Chinamasa were not answered.
Sakupwanya confirmed that some mining workers were working for Betterbrands “but not all of them.”
“They are so many illegal miners not working for Betterbrands. So It is difficult to know if the people you interviewed are our genuine workers,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Hofisi said; “Normalcy is being restored . . . ”
In a letter to the Master of the High Court, Hofisi said the rescue plan approved by creditors was now being implemented.
According to the rescue plan, the company would be able to settle the proven liabilities in full, reconstruct the balance sheet, resumption of underground mining, security of employment and overall contribution to the economy.
Redwing will need as much as US$6 million to restart production by bringing in new investors into the business valued at about US$30 million.
Underground gold production would resume from level one using conventional hand-held mining techniques before moving to level three to benefit economies of scale.
Much of the funding would be raised from new institutional investors who buy shares from existing shareholders and also inject funds into the business.
Part of the funds to be injected will be used to settle creditors or the potential investors would buy shares from the existing shareholder and also have new shares issued to them.