By Gloria Mbwana
Illegal miners who were forcefully evicted by the government from various mining sites across the country have returned to the sites, where they are mining alluvial gold and other precious minerals.
The government evicted the miners as a result of an outcry from Malawians that the practice had resulted in a number of problems including environmental degradation, health concerns and accidents that led to injuries and death of some miners.
Protest against the malpractice reached its climax last year when the Norwegian Church Aid and Natural Resources Justice Network backed members of the community in Mangochi- Makanjira in a march which culminated into the presentation of a petition, urging the government to forcefully kick out the miners in Makanjira and Namizimu Forest Reserve, to the District Commissioner for Mangochi.
In response, State President Arthur Peter Mutharikadeployed the Malawi Defence Force to chase the miners and guard the area.
In other areas such as Nanthenje and Lundu in Lilongwe, the Malawi Police Service also moved in to evict the miners.
However, since the Malawi Defence Force completed their mission in Makanjira, the illegal miners who include foreign buyers have returned to the sites.
The miners have also returned to other hotspots including Nathenje and Lundu where they are continuing with their gold panning activities.
Responding to the development, Government says it is in the process of formalizing the sector to do away with illegal mining.
Writing in the Draft ASM Handbook for Malawi produced by the Pan-African Support to the EuroGeoSurveys – Organisation of African Geological Surveys Partnerships (PanAfGeo), Senior Mining Engineer in the Mineral Rights Section at the Department of Mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Gibson Nyirenda says there is need for all the miners to acquire licences or face the arm of the law because no ASM is permitted to carry on prospecting, mining operation or any dealing in precious or semi-precious stones without a licence.
“This clearly means that no minerals shall be removed from any land from which they have been obtained, or disposed of, in any manner, without authorization issued under the Mines and Minerals Act,” says Nyirenda.
In order to formalize ASM activities, the Malawi Cabinet has approved an ASM policy which calls for the formation of ASM cooperatives that will legally conduct mining activities.
Meanwhile, local ASMs have welcomed government’s plan to formalize the sector saying it will help bring sanity in the sector in which smuggling is rampant.
Chairperson for Nyasa Mining Cooperative (NMC) Percy Maleta suggests that in order to end illegal mining, the Department of Mines should start issuing licenses to the illegal miners right at the mining sites, provide them with training and a formal market.
He says it would be easy for the Department to trace the miners and license them if it works hand in hand with the District Commissioners and traditional leaders who have knowledge of the illegal mining hotspots.
Maleta says: “Creation of a formal market for the minerals is of utmost importance. For instance, we do not have a proper market for gold and other precious minerals in Malawi serve for few Chinese who normally smuggle the precious minerals. In the actual sense our country does not have any laid down procedures on how one can export gold.”
“The government should create and establish market centres in all hotspot areas where gold and other precious minerals are produced.”
He says it is important that Malawi emulates countries such as Tanzania to empower local ASMs with capital, equipment, technical knowledge and market for their products so that they are in a position to compete with foreigners who are taking advantage of the poverty of the local ASMs to buy their minerals at very low prices.
Though illegal gold panning activities have proliferated across the country, Malawi has strict laws on the export of reserved minerals such as gold hence most of the gold from these hotspot areas is smuggled to countries such as Tanzania where the Central Bank buys gold.