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Coronavirus – artisanal mining communities and urgent measures for saving lives


By Sam Spiegel and Wellington Takavarasha – Tuesday 31 March 2020

HARARE (Mining Index) – DEATHS will be the result of respiratory complications due to COVID-19 throughout the planet. This is now a grim fact of our times, but what remains uncertain still is just how devastating the virus is going to be. While not all people will be affected equally, everyone will be affected – profoundly.

In Zimbabwe, there is an urgent need now to build rapid education in artisanal and small-scale mining communities, where precarious work and poor access to water facilitates for hand-washing can pose particular difficulties. If people act quickly, measures could be put into place at national and community levels to mitigate the impacts.

Everyone’s wellbeing is at stake here – everyone’s health will suffer as long as the virus’ spread multiplies. People with existing immune system conditions, lung disease, and the elderly are particularly at risk, but anyone can die from this virus.

Artisanal mining communities are likely to be among the most seriously impacted populations; but paradoxically, because the virus is wreaking havoc on all facets of the economy, artisanal mining is likely to continue to be a widespread survival and food security strategy, despite the risks.

Given that the virus is passed between people extremely easily, what is urgent is putting in place awareness programming to limit the spread of the virus. A nationwide lockdown or ‘shut-down’ of all economic sectors may need to be weighed carefully against the various implications this would have, and we need to be asking critical questions now about what supports will be put in place for vulnerable people.

The Zimbabwe Miners Federation has begun campaigns to educate rapidly – noting that artisanal miners are likely among the most vulnerable groups – already facing disproportionately high risks of lung infection and dust pneumoconiosis.

Many artisanal and small-scale miners are working in groups, crowding at gold out crop areas and numbering thousands at such places like Umsasa and Jumbo, Wonderer Mine in Shurugwi,Urtna in Kadoma and Makaha areas. These areas are without hygiene, clean water or toilets.

A mixture of bold general steps by national policy makers and very specific contextual steps are needed. We know that “physical distancing” measures – i.e. measures to keep people physically at least 2 metres apart – would be implemented in artisanal mining context only if there is very careful and robust awareness on this.

Unquestionably, the World Health Organization’s call for bold measures (new ‘physical distancing’ and rigorous hand-washing steps, among others) is going to be difficult to implement.

Recently, police units in Zimbabwe have been cracking down on artisanal mining and arresting considerable numbers of people as part of Operation Chikorokoza Chapera. Leaving aside (for now) the nuances of this campaign, or even issue of the legality or illegality of artisanal mining in particular locations, what is going to matter most for national public health is making coronavirus mitigation the number one issue in these next weeks and months.

If government units who visit the mining sites can help spread the word to artisanal miner that safety is the priority here, this could reduce panic, prevent chaotic confusion, guard against undue fear, and weave public health programming into the very fabric of current relationships. In many countries, governments are providing financial aid to sectors hard hit by this pandemic. Consideration must be given to how governments can help artisanal miners who are not able to operate safely at this time.

What the virus teaching us so far is this: now is the time for collective care, not individualism or competition or conflict. When children remind their parents to extra-frequently wash hands with soap, and vice versa, these steps all matter.

When collective action and collective care are the foregrounding drivers of relationship building in conditions of crisis, this is what can make the biggest difference of all. Across the globe, we are hearing stories of ‘disaster capitalism’ in the midst of coronavirus – some people even using the crisis for advancing specific goals. We are also hearing stories of coming together in unprecedented solidarity. This is now the time for the latter, and for unprecedented public health measures in unprecedented times. ENDS// 

 Twitter @IndexMining Facebook @MiningIndexNews LinkedIn @MiningIndex




Dr Sam Spiegel is Senior Lecturer in International Development at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre of African Studies.


Wellington Takavarasha is the CEO of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation.

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