Illegal gold panning activities have extensively damaged the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) rail line, a development which has been blamed for increased train derailments.
NRZ public relations manager, Nyasha Maravanyika, said the most affected areas include Bindura, Tatagula, Shurugwi, Esigodini and Kwekwe where the illegal panners are digging for gold and other minerals near and underneath the railway line.
"As NRZ, we are deeply disturbed by what is happening in some areas where we have equipment. We have recently discovered that in some places the gold panners are busy panning gold and other minerals right next to our rail line. For instance, in Tatagula panning activities are now only one metre away from the rail line and there is a 12 fit hole," Maravanyika told New Zimbabwe.
Maravanyika said the company has already approached the police, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and the Ministry of mining in a bid to curtail the practice.
"Any area which is about 45 m away from the rail line belongs to NRZ and the moment these panners and any other person start panning in these places, they automatically becomes illegal miners. In as much as the ministry of Mines and Mining Development deems them legal but when they operate in our areas where they do not protect our state infrastructure, it becomes illegal and we are appealing to ZRP to seriously look into this issue," he said.
Maravanyika said NRZ is already battling with train derailments and sagging of rail lines as a result of the illegal panning activities.
"There are cases where the rail line has collapsed downwards and we also have situations where derailments have occurred. If these gold panning activities continue, both the government and the company risks losing millions of dollars," said Maravanyika.
He said the panners have also damaged electricity poles.
According to him, NRZ, in conjunction with EMA, ZRP and ZESA, will soon launch an awareness campaign to concertize the local community and the panners on the dangers of panning near electricity and rail lines.
"We want to kick start this campaign programme as soon as possible so that when our recapitalisation programme starts, we know all our equipment are secured," added Maravinyika.