FULL REPORT - Harare/Nairobi/Brussels, 24 November 2020
Over the past year, a wave of violence has rocked Zimbabwe. Armed gangs, alternatively portrayed as consisting of or preying upon small-scale miners, have wreaked deadly havoc, especially in the country's many gold mining areas (see Appendix B for a map of these areas). Civil society organisations rang alarm bells in October 2019, when they recorded over 100 casualties in the space of three months near a single town, though this violence represents only a fraction of the toll around the gold mines dotting Zimbabwe's ten provinces. By year's end, observers were speaking of a "national conflict" and police warning that gang violence threatened the country's stability. Such talk helped jog the government into action. In early 2020, police moved against the gangs in what, by the official account, was one of the largest such operations in Zimbabwe's history, arresting thousands.
Zimbabwe can ill afford such turmoil, as COVID-19 and the consequent global slowdown deal further blows to its already reeling economy. In 2019, the economy contracted by over 8 per cent, inflation spiked and expected foreign investment did not appear. Social and political conditions deteriorated markedly. As a result, some 90 per cent of Zimbabweans are living in poverty and 60 per cent are considered food-insecure, placing Zimbabwe's food insecurity fourth highest in the world. This trajectory has continued into 2020, leading regional hegemon South Africa to spell out its concerns that its neighbour is in serious crisis.
Gold is central to the economic revival plans of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from the ousted Robert Mugabe in 2017. In October 2019, Mnangagwa and Minister of Mines Winston Chitando announced plans to expand the government's gold revenue to $4 billion per year by 2023, an ambitious fourfold increase in four years. Since the virus-induced global economic downturn, gold, already Zimbabwe's largest foreign exchange earner, has only grown in importance. While the prices of the country's other export commodities, such as platinum, nickel and diamonds, have dropped precipitously, the world gold price has soared (see Appendix C), as investors have sought a safe haven during the slowdown. If Zimbabwe is to be "open for business", as Mnangagwa has repeatedly pledged since taking office, the gold industry in particular must thrive.
The gold sector does not consist exclusively, or even mostly, of big business. Artisanal miners - men and women who mine on their own or in small groups using little or no machinery - and small-scale mining, which involves slightly larger operations with some mechanisation, produce the majority of Zimbabwe's gold. In 2019, artisanal and small-scale miners combined were responsible for 63 per cent of reported gold production, although it is unclear whether artisanal or small-scale mining is the bigger contributor of the two (see Appendix D). Amid the collapsing economy, an estimated 1.5 million people have turned to artisanal mining as a safety net. This trend will likely persist as COVID-19 brings additional hardship and spurs urban-rural migration.
Artisanal gold miners play a curious role in Zimbabwe's political economy. On one hand, they are an irritant to the industrial mining companies that hold most of Zimbabwe's gold exploration rights. Their encroachment on industrial mining claims prompts the government to clear them out in mass arrest campaigns. The majority of those picked up in the early 2020 sweep had committed no acts of violence. They were merely mining without a licence or in the possession of tools that artisanal miners commonly possess for their work but that could be used as weapons.
On the other hand, artisanal miners are an important constituency in Zimbabwe's patronage politics, particularly as practiced by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Several ZANU-PF politicians have been fingered as "patrons" of illegally encroaching artisanal miners, or even machete gangs, and some mobilise such groups against rivals.
Some observers contend that "whoever controls the gold, will control and rule Zimbabwe", referring to power struggles between party factions loyal to Mnangagwa, on one side, and his Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, on the other. The latter is seemingly positioning himself to challenge Mnangagwa for ZANU-PF leadership ahead of the 2023 elections, although another, possibly stronger challenger, Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo, has also emerged. Though violence in gold mining areas has apparently diminished in 2020 (COVID-19 travel restrictions make it difficult to be sure), there is every reason to believe it will flare up again, especially as elections approach.
Meanwhile, pressure on Mnangagwa to make the broader governance reforms he has promised since assuming power is mounting from outside Zimbabwe. In November 2019, South Africa made statements that blame Zimbabwe's economic malaise on its politics. The African Peer Review Mechanism, Africa's self-assessment tool for good governance, which Zimbabwe laudably joined under Mnangagwa's leadership in early 2020, is unlikely to give the president glowing reviews. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which holds the key to external financial support, publicly criticised the state's financial links to Kudakwashe "Kuda" Tagwirei, a key ZANU-PF donor and a prominent adviser to both Mnangagwa and Chiwenga. A company allegedly owned by Tagwirei, who is now under U.S. sanctions for his alleged complicity in corrupt business dealings with the Zimbabwe government, has rapidly acquired gold mining assets and gold buying licences over the last year. Tagwirei denies owning the company involved.
The stakes are high for Mnangagwa and his minister of mines, Chitando. Unless they can improve the economic situation, which requires generating greater revenue from Zimbabwe's gold, they risk being cast aside by their own party. Moreover, Chitando will want to uphold his industry reputation as a capable technocrat. Yet gold revenues in the first half of 2020 are already down 13 per cent compared to 2019, despite higher gold prices.
This report analyses why the destabilisation of Zimbabwe's gold mining sector has resulted in widespread violence. It considers the stories of three mines, Jumbo in Mashonaland Central province, Gaika in Midlands province and Giant in Mashonaland West (see Appendix E), in order to illustrate factors driving conflict and ways to restore calm. The report is based on interviews in Harare and at those three mining sites, with Zimbabwe government officials, representatives of civil society organisations, artisanal miners and mining companies, and others in the gold supply chain. Interviews were supplemented by news reports, legal documents, datasets on violent events and other public information. This report is the second in a series of Crisis Group publications on extractive industries and conflict.
II. The Makings of an Unstable System
Several factors contribute to instability in Zimbabwe's gold mining sector. A centralised gold buying scheme depresses government gold revenues, encourages smuggling and contributes to industrial mine closures. Idle industrial mines attract artisanal miners, who create revenue that feed elaborate patronage networks. The lack of a consistently functioning legal system free from political interference spurs confrontation.
A. Pitfalls of a Single Gold Buyer
All gold producers in Zimbabwe, whether artisanal, small-scale or industrial, must by law sell to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe via its subsidiary gold buyer, Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR). This requirement has several deleterious effects on the gold sector.
The main problem is that FPR underpays and sometimes pays late for gold. The body pays producers partially in U.S. dollars and partially in amounts of Zimbabwe dollars determined by the official exchange rate. This system, introduced in 2014, aims to save foreign exchange, of which the Reserve Bank is chronically short. But in the open market the Zimbabwe dollar is worth less than half its official value. The discrepancy creates a gap between the price FPR pays and the world gold price, which is denominated solely in U.S. dollars (see Appendix F). The price difference has fluctuated in size, since FPR has often changed the share of payments it makes in U.S. dollars, most recently in May 2020. Prior to that date, industrial miners were receiving only 55 per cent of payments in U.S. dollars; they now get 70 per cent, though they continue to complain of being paid late. For their part, artisanal miners receive, since May 2020, a fixed price per gram of gold exclusively in U.S. dollars, but this price is also considerably lower than the world gold price.
A policy intended to retain foreign exchange and save the state money has wound up costing it dearly. Before the policy's introduction, between 2014 and 2017, gold deliveries and associated tax revenue increased (see Appendix D). But since FPR started retaining foreign exchange in 2018, the government has lost tax revenue and badly needed foreign exchange due to smuggling (see Appendix G). Estimates suggest that more than $1.5 billion worth of gold leaves Zimbabwe illegally each year, often ending up in Dubai. Some dealers estimate that illegal exports top official deliveries to FPR. Even FPR admits that large-scale smuggling exists. The fall in official gold deliveries shows no sign of abating, as deliveries to FPR decreased in 2019 and were down 15 per cent in the first half of 2020 (see Appendix D).
A range of actors are rumoured - though such rumours have not been investigated so cannot be verified - to benefit from gold smuggling. These include senior politicians, ministry officials, mining company employees, individual businessmen and artisanal miners, as well as FPR representatives and law enforcement actors who might be paid to look the other way.
Moreover, FPR's payment practices have contributed to the shutdown of industrial mining operations, leaving many sites open to artisanal miners' encroachment. Several of Zimbabwe's largest gold producers have halted production at some or all of their mines, citing underpayment as a main reason. These companies have also started legal proceedings against the Reserve Bank for loss of revenue due to payments partially in Zimbabwe dollars and late payments, which they allege are selective and motivated by corruption. The government has previously announced a "use it or lose it" policy for inoperative mines: either companies resume mining for ore or forfeit their licence for that mine. It has yet to apply this policy against a gold producer, though mining companies regard the possibility as leverage over them. Artisanal miners, for their part, express frustration at the lack of enforcement of that policy while mines sit idle. They have taken matters into their own hands and (partially) occupied a number of industrial mining sites, some of which were inoperative but others of which were functioning.
B. Gold and Zimbabwe's Patronage Economy
Artisanal miners' infringement on industrial mining claims is not an isolated problem but a product of Zimbabwe's wider political economy. Rival factions in the ruling ZANU-PF run extensive patronage networks. Artisanal and industrial miners are both victims of and active participants in this system.
Artisanal miners are linked to the patronage machine primarily through local politicians. Politicians can extract revenue from artisanal miners by extorting them, protecting them from arrest or helping them navigate government bureaucracy. Others may own mills that process artisanally mined ore or trade in materials, like mercury, that miners need. Still others may "sponsor" artisanal miners, covering their operating costs in exchange for a cut of production. Prosecutors have accused several ruling-party politicians of encouraging artisanal miners to invade industrial mines. In 2019, a court found former ZANU-PF MP Vongai Mupereri guilty of encouraging artisanal miners to illegally mine on an industrial site, though police have not arrested him and he still holds an important party position. Another ZANU-PF MP, Dexter Nduna, was similarly accused, but denies the charges and the case's status is unclear. Partly to shield themselves from consequences, local politicians share the revenue they obtain with those above them in the patronage hierarchy. Opposition politicians, civil society and the media have accused politicians at the highest level of government of being involved, though allegations are unproven.
Politicians can also wield their connections to artisanal miners to advance their position in the ever-shifting ZANU-PF party structure. Artisanal miners form a constituency that politicians can deploy to beef up the numbers attending ZANU-PF rallies or to cast votes for the ruling party in opposition strongholds, in return for tacitly allowing miners to grab valuable mining assets. Looking ahead to Zimbabwe's 2023 election, observers worry that Mnangagwa could use machete-bearing miners as an instrument in his power struggle with Chiwenga and Moyo. In turn, Chiwenga's eagerness to take action against machete gangs has been interpreted as a move to strengthen his position and weaken Mnangagwa's.
Industrial mining is also bound up with Zimbabwe's patronage economy. Mining companies may attempt to use political connections to "move up the queue" in receiving payment from FPR. Civil society organisations have raised concerns about the concentration of industrial mining assets in the hands of ZANU-PF supporters, particularly Kuda Tagwirei, a party donor and adviser to Mnangagwa whom the U.S. recently put under sanctions. Landela Mining Ventures, a company allegedly majority-owned by Tagwirei, has in recent months purchased four state-owned gold mines, and one, possibly two, commercially held mines. Tagwirei denies ownership of Landela. The company has furthermore received a special permit from FPR to purchase gold on its behalf, prompting concerns that it could use this dispensation to mislabel industrially produced gold as artisanal as a way of evading higher royalties. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission furthermore dismissed a set of corruption allegations against Tagwirei, including unlawfully obtaining mines.
The Zimbabwe Miners' Federation (ZMF), the interest organisation representing artisanal, small-scale and medium-scale miners, is also involved in a corruption scandal. Its president, Henrietta Rushwaya, was arrested in October on a smuggling charge, while flying to Dubai with 6kg of gold in her handbag. She says she was transporting the gold for a legal gold buyer. Just one month earlier, ZMF had received a permit to purchase gold on FPR's behalf.
Factionalism within ZANU-PF can give competing artisanal and industrial miners an opportunity to change the balance of power at mining sites in their favour. Some industrial sites are home to groups of artisanal miners aligned with different politicians. Politicians may attempt to undermine one another by calling in police to expel the artisanal miners associated with rivals. Playing into this dynamic, an industrial mining company that sees artisanal miners infringing upon its site might seek out their patron's political opponents and get them to request such a police intervention.
The presence of artisanal miners at industrial sites provides fodder for myriad forms of petty corruption. Members of the police, army and private security firms commonly ask artisanal miners for bribes to let them into industrial sites that they are deployed to protect. Some former employees of mining companies help artisanal miners find the richest deposits or rent them company housing. Some working in the judicial system, including police, magistrates, prosecutors, clerks and court messengers, take bribes to neglect to arrest artisanal miners operating on industrial sites or to swiftly release those in custody.
These dynamics make things especially difficult for women artisanal miners. Women are easier targets for gangs that rob artisanal miners of their ore. They also typically have fewer of the resources and connections needed to operate on sites, including industrial mines, with higher ore grades. Whereas men might be able to get their hands on working capital through patronage, women miners consistently stress that they have trouble gaining access to funds. Women typically own too little collateral to allow them to receive loans; married women's collateral is often in the husband's name. Even a credit facility earmarked to provide women artisanal miners loans so that they can invest to improve their operations is hard to qualify for, given prohibitively strict eligibility criteria. Women are thus typically relegated to activities with poor earnings potential, for example illegal panning for alluvial gold in rivers.
C. A Compromised Legal and Justice System
The patronage system around gold mining thrives in part because Zimbabwe's Mines and Minerals Act is outdated, and enforcement of laws is often haphazard. Various legal ambiguities also hinder reforms and dampen prospects of cooperation between industrial and artisanal miners.
Zimbabwe's Mines and Minerals Act dates back to 1961, was last amended in 1996, and makes no mention of artisanal miners or what procedures they could follow to form cooperatives that might hold mining rights. Individuals can hold a mining licence, but they must show an ability to start mining operations of substantial scale. Individual artisanal miners are extremely unlikely to be able to do so, although some small-scale miners can. A bill amending this act was put to parliament under Mugabe in 2015, but the Mnangagwa administration has shelved it, reportedly to focus on what it sees as higher priorities. The last iteration of the draft bill does not acknowledge artisanal miners, although it does introduce a new category of "small-scale miners". To miners and civil society figures, the lack of mention of artisanal miners, along with the foot dragging, suggests that officials do not wish to amend the act, as they profit from the legal ambiguity around artisanal mining. No gold policy exists to complement the Mines and Minerals Act, although a draft policy, not yet in force, does call for formalising artisanal mining.
The ambiguity leaves artisanal miners in a precarious position. The government has made intermittent attempts to formalise artisanal mining while stopping short of changing the law. It is possible for artisanal miners to acquire a mining licence, for instance, although the process is laborious and few miners have gone through it. FPR operates a "no questions asked" buying policy, arguably a step toward decriminalising artisanal mining. But it imposes a five-gram minimum delivery, which is an obstacle for many such miners, and it also allows gold stolen from artisanal miners by gangs or mined by artisanal miners on land licenced to companies to enter the legal supply chain. Even modest formalisation efforts are undercut by repression: police have arrested thousands of artisanal miners on charges of illegal mining, at times without regard for any licence that they might have. Police arrested more than 25,000 artisanal miners between 2006 and 2009, during an operation called "No More Artisanal Mining", and another 8,000 between March 2019 and February 2020.
The Mines and Minerals Act does make one tacit allowance for usually unlicensed artisanal miners in the country's mining operations. It permits a mining claim holder to "tribute" part of the holdings to a third party. Industrial mining companies will often give artisanal mining cooperatives such tributes in exchange for a fee, where such cooperatives exist. A tribute arrangement can offer industrial mining companies a way to exploit mines that they cannot profitably work themselves.
But the legal system's unpredictability makes both artisanal and industrial miners reticent about entering into tribute arrangements. Neither party trusts the authorities to protect its interests in the event of a dispute: even if one party were to obtain a favourable court ruling, that party could not count on it being enforced. Indeed, it has proven difficult to enforce tribute arrangements in court, even though they are formal contracts. Moreover, industrial mining companies cannot be certain that police will expel artisanal miners encroaching upon their claims without a tribute arrangement. Nor can they be sure that miners in violation of a tribute agreement, due, for example, to non-payment of fees, will be compelled to leave. Artisanal miners, for their part, feel that their position is even more tenuous. Tribute arrangements are typically granted for three years, after which the company might not extend the deal, particularly if high-grade ore is discovered. Artisanal miners would then lose any investment they have made in the site.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has no digitised cadastre system to delimit who has mining rights in which area, contributing to competing claims. The current cadastre system is paper-based and by most accounts badly organised, leaving open the possibility of error or fraud. For example, ministry of mines officials have become embroiled in a "double allocation" scandal, consisting of allegations that they recognised a second claim to an already allocated plot - allowing a second party to mine this plot in contravention of the original plot holder's rights - in exchange for bribes. Back in 2010, Zimbabwe's auditor general recommended that the ministry ring-fence funds to digitise the cadastre system, and international donors also have been willing to support this project. Digitisation would not in itself address discrepancies inherited from the paper-based system, but it would give a sense of the scale of such problems and which reforms to pursue to best resolve them. There has been no progress toward undertaking the task, however, again leading to speculation that some in government prefer legal ambiguity.
Lastly, the legal system frustrates industrial mining companies trying to hold government entities to account, for example for misallocating claims, encouraging artisanal miners to dig at their sites or making late payments for gold deliveries. Several mining companies have taken office holders to court, but these cases commonly peter out without resolution or with paper convictions that leave the principals free to continue the behaviour for which they were convicted.
III. The Bitter Fruits of Instability
Instability in Zimbabwe's gold mining sector has repeatedly given rise to intense violence by so-called Mashurugwi, or machete gangs, some of which may have political connections. The latest spike in machete attacks, and the associated media attention, triggered a large police operation culminating in thousands of arrests, including of violent perpetrators but also of people mining without a licence or even some with a licence.
A. A Spike in Machete Gang Violence
Machete gangs are not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe's mining areas, but they have lately killed in unusually large numbers. Gangs originated in the late 1990s, when several industrial mines closed, leaving workers unemployed. Many went into agriculture, but around Shurugwi in Midlands province (see Appendix A for a map of Zimbabwe's provinces), where arable land is scarce, jobless miners organised into itinerant groups looking for mineral deposits to explore. Although not all these groups engaged in violence, and not all machete gangs come from Shurugwi, the terms Mashurugwi (or "from Shurugwi") and machete gang have become synonymous.
Around 2006, the diamond mining sector saw a peak in gang-related violence, including confrontations between gangs and state security forces. The same year witnessed a police crackdown, ostensibly on gangs in the gold sector. More recently, gold mining areas have again seen a marked increase in machete gang violence. Already in 2017, the Zimbabwe Peace Project, one of Zimbabwe's premier human rights organisations, warned of escalating violence after fifteen died in clashes between gangs and private mine security forces. It has spiralled since.
"Machete gang violence" is an umbrella term for several forms of more or less organised mayhem. At the more organised end of the spectrum, armed gangs take over lucrative mining territory, often industrial mines in disuse. At one mine, the industrial owner found that six such gangs, each sponsored by a different patron, had chased away the artisanal cooperative to which it had tributed the site. Competing gangs at sites fight each other over the pits and shafts promising the highest returns. Such violence can blur the distinction between gangs and ordinarily non-violent artisanal miners armed in self-defence. At the less organised end of the spectrum, gangs simply rob artisanal miners and do not extract ore themselves. Lastly, there is unorganised violence involving gang members and armed artisanal miners, such as deadly bar fights or rapes of women who live near mining sites.
It is difficult to determine the number of casualties resulting from these forms of violence, but the death toll over the past year runs into the hundreds. The one publicly available tally is that of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which recorded 105 casualties between August and October 2019 in just one mining area. Even if more numbers were available, they would likely undercount deaths and injuries, as violent incidents are consistently underreported to the police. Many Zimbabweans see little point in informing the police: according to survey data, it is the least trusted public institution, widely regarded as subordinate to the ZANU-PF.
B. Mounting Pressure on the Mnangagwa Government
Persistent machete gang violence, and security forces' seeming inability to stop it, have given rise to accusations that politicians, including from the ruling party, are behind the gangs. The suspicions - while largely unsubstantiated to date - have led to pressure on the Mnangagwa government to tamp down the attacks.
Several analysts speculate about ties between the gangs and senior ZANU-PF figures. Opposition MPs took up this line of enquiry, asking questions in parliament about State Security Minister Owen Ncube, whom they allege is a coordinator of machete gangs. They have gone so far as to call President Mnangagwa himself the "archbishop of Mashurugwi". Media question why Mnangagwa was doing so little to tackle - or even condemn - machete gang violence. (Ncube and other ZANU-PF officials deny these accusations, saying no evidence backs them up. ) The suspicions extend to Zimbabwe's security forces, whom opposition leaders and media accuse of protecting violent artisanal miners or mining without a licence themselves. A police statement confirms that an unknown number of officers have indeed been arrested for illegal gold mining or being part of machete gangs. Meanwhile, ZANU-PF media and other outlets turn the allegations around, accusing several opposition parties of gang connections.
Toward the end of 2019, pressure mounted on the Mnangagwa government to act. Ever more alarmist pieces appeared in the media, claiming that gangs were mining close to Zimbabwe's capital city and contaminating with mercury an adjacent lake that supplies Harare's drinking water. An early 2020 article spoke of "civil war" between machete gangs, on one side, and the police and army on the other. Urged on by opposition MPs, with the support of the ZANU-PF chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Mining and Mining Development, Zimbabwe's parliament started an enquiry into machete gang violence, which it has since suspended due to COVID-19.
C. A Large-scale Police Operation
In the first months of 2020, police launched an operation to curb machete gang violence named Chikorokoza Ngachipere or "No to Artisanal Miners' Anarchy". Police called it one of the largest such campaigns ever organised in Zimbabwe. It involved several deadly encounters between police and soldiers, on one hand, and machete gangs on the other. Authorities have made over 12,000 arrests since January this year.
In doing so, police did not distinguish between perpetrators of violence and artisanal miners simply pursuing their livelihoods. Well over 6,000 of the 8,000 people arrested between March 2019 and February 2020 were charged with illegal artisanal mining, whereas fewer than 2,000 were charged with possession of dangerous weapons. Furthermore, not everyone arrested for weapons possession can be presumed to be a gang member, as the machete is widely used by miners as a tool. An artisanal miners' representative sent a letter of complaint to the government, stating that "even properly registered miners" had been "rounded up or arrested".
Since March, the government's COVID-19 lockdown measures have made it difficult to determine the status of either the police operation or machete gang violence. Officials announced in March that the members of all the machete gangs but one had been arrested, though this claim cannot be independently verified. Since then, there have been infrequent reports of gangs robbing artisanal and industrial miners.
IV. Three Mines, Three Stories of Violence
Case studies of three gold mines - Jumbo, Gaika and Giant (see Appendix E for a map) - illustrate the instabilities of Zimbabwe's patronage economy around gold, how these can lead to violence and measures that can mitigate risks.
A. Jumbo Mine
Jumbo, or Mazowe, is an underground gold mine in Mashonaland Central and a hotspot of machete gang violence. Violence began in late 2019 when industrial mining operations at Jumbo ceased, prompting an influx of artisanal miners looking for high-grade ore, some of whom organised into gangs. One miner estimates that three to five people died at Jumbo every day, mostly fellow miners who got caught up in fights over turf, but also others such as prostitutes, though confirming any numbers is difficult since bodies were frequently left in shafts underground. According to other reports, gangs would rob artisanal miners, force them to work underground for days on end or beat them, sometimes to death. Zimbabwe's patronage economy played an important role in both Jumbo's closure and the subsequent melees.
Jumbo used to belong to the Metallon Corporation, which is registered in the UK and in 2018 was among the top ten mining companies in Zimbabwe, owning and operating several mines in the country. Although its mines are by all accounts profitable, Metallon's overall financial position took a nosedive around 2018 - as did its relationship with the Zimbabwe government. The government accused the company of moving capital out of the country in contravention of Zimbabwe's laws. Metallon denies the charge, and the status of legal proceedings is unclear. In 2019, Metallon filed its own suit against the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, saying its subsidiary FPR had failed to pay for gold deliveries in U.S. dollars or sometimes neglected to pay at all. This case is also pending. Around the time it filed suit, Metallon decided to put several of its mines, including Jumbo, out of commission for maintenance. Unable to pay its debts, Metallon laid off most of its workers at Jumbo.
Nearly vacant, Jumbo mine was an attractive prospect for artisanal miners. It boasts high-grade ores and shafts that help artisanal miners descend to depths that would otherwise be beyond their reach. The first artisanal miners on the scene were former Metallon employees, who were owed several months of wages. Hundreds of others followed, the number peaking at more than 5,000 by some accounts.
One new arrival describes an elaborate system of patronage at Jumbo. He and a small team of fellow miners would pay police and private security guards a fee to enter the site. The guards would warn miners of forthcoming inspections by other authorities. Once on the site, the team faced the choice of mining on the surface or underground. The shafts offered higher-grade ore, but were more dangerous, as several gangs armed with guns and machetes would demand their own entry and exit fees. A "sponsor" would pre-pay all these expenses in return for a cut of the team's final takings.
Several local and national politicians have been accused of "sponsoring" the larger gangs mining underground. Those living around Jumbo point a finger at close Mnangagwa ally Owen Ncube, although his office denies involvement. Others allege that local ZANU-PF politicians back violent gangs of artisanal miners, though party offices reject this claim as well. One local ZANU-PF politician did tell artisanal miners in a speech at Jumbo that he "agreed that you [artisanal miners] scratch on the surface and get little gold for your upkeep without trespassing into the big mine. [... ] You should not worry as your leaders we will stand by you". In turn, ZANU-PF figures accuse opposition parties of supporting machete gangs at Jumbo to stir up unrest.
In January 2020, Operation Chikorokoza Ngachipere mostly put an end to artisanal mining at Jumbo, arresting over 1,700 miners and several police officers who were involved with gangs or mining themselves. The focus on Jumbo raised eyebrows in the media, as the intervention there happened more swiftly than at other mines where artisanal miners had moved in. In 2019, Metallon put Jumbo mine up for sale. Kuda Tagwirei's Landela, which had previously bought two of the company's other mines, is the presumed buyer.
Broadly speaking, it appears that after Metallon's fall from grace with Harare, senior ZANU-PF figures squeezed it through the FPR and decreased Jumbo's value by tacitly allowing occupation by artisanal miners. When a figure close to Mnangagwa's government showed an interest in buying the mine, the authorities were quick to chase those miners out. Metallon refused Crisis Group's requests for comment on the sale.
B. Gaika Mine
Gaika mine in the town of Kwekwe in Zimbabwe's Midlands province was also a hotspot of violence. The Duration Gold Group has owned the mine since 2006, and has been conducting both mining and exploration activities there. At Gaika, a local politician was convicted of orchestrating an invasion by artisanal miners. Events at this mine also illustrate the weakness of Zimbabwe's legal system and the role of ZANU-PF factionalism in the gold sector's instability.
Confrontations between Duration Gold and a group of artisanal miners with political patrons began in February 2018. The impetus for invading Gaika reportedly emerged at a Mnangagwa campaign rally in February that year, where former ZANU-PF MP Vongaishe Mupereri spoke. The same year, the company received a letter, signed by Mupereri, stating that "groups of young people" would be taking over Gaika. Shortly thereafter, a large group of artisanal miners entered the mine. The letter justified the move by saying Gaika had been closed for twenty years, with no sign of reopening, presumably a reference to the government's putative "use it or lose it" policy. It also asked Duration Gold to grant the "youth" a tribute agreement. Duration Gold disputes that Gaika has ever been closed under its auspices. It argues that it has been engaged in exploration, a normal, and time-consuming, part of modern mining operations, that exploration has confirmed the presence of gold deposits and that granting a tribute would pose a safety hazard, given unstable ground conditions, and jeopardise its mining plans.
Despite court rulings against the artisanal miners and Mupereri, the authorities appear to have long avoided taking action. Duration Gold secured a court order for the police to remove the miners and for Mupereri to cease encouraging them to remain. Two miners, who name Mupereri as their top "chef" - the person at the top of the patronage network benefitting from their mining activities - say they knew about these legal proceedings, but that their local "chefs" told them not to worry about eviction. Indeed, there is no evidence that the police acted against the miners. In May 2018, the Zimbabwe High Court found Mupereri and the police in contempt of its orders. A year later, the court issued a warrant for Mupereri's arrest for failure to comply, leading observers to conclude that Mnangagwa had "thrown Mupereri under the bus". Yet there is no evidence that the police executed this order, either. No longer denying his involvement, Mupereri stated that he "was not backing down on a youth empowerment drive through Gaika".
There are persistent suggestions that national politicians were also involved at Gaika. Again, the name of Minister of State Ncube crops up frequently. Ncube signed a letter requesting that Duration Gold grant Mupereri a tribute at Gaika. Two artisanal miners at Gaika identify Ncube as the second top "chef". Mnangagwa, however, has personally denied Ncube's involvement.
Although artisanal miners could continue working at Gaika, doing so was a risky business. Groups of miners would "peg" patches of territory, and fights would ensue if one group entered another's turf or discovered a particularly rich vein of ore. Given the dangers, few women miners were present. Artisanal miners made little effort to take safety measures, and several deadly accidents occurred. Duration Gold estimates that, all told, the death toll at Gaika exceeded 80.
Eventually, in April 2019, soldiers and police evicted all the artisanal miners operating at Gaika mine. It is difficult to determine what compelled them to intervene, but several factors could have played a role. Politicians left out of the Gaika patronage network might have had an interest in ending artisanal mining at Gaika in order to undercut their rivals. Prior to the intervention, Duration Gold thought itself compelled to finance the miners' expulsion, after its repeated appeals to the police had gone unanswered, and declared its intentions to do so, which might have spurred officials to take action. The government may have seen an incentive in championing the operation in order to create a positive "soundbite" about rule of law in Zimbabwe.
C. Giant Mine
Giant, or Gadzema, mine, located on the outskirts of Chegutu in Mashonaland West, has seen the least violence among the three mines considered in this report. Giant's ownership lies in the hands of several companies, but Breckridge Investment is the operator. At Giant, investors granted a tribute arrangement to an artisanal mining cooperative with political connections. The mine operated fairly peacefully until security forces expelled the artisanal miners, killing one miner while doing so. Again, Zimbabwe's patronage economy and legal system are crucial to understanding what happened.
Artisanal mining at Giant mine has a long and non-violent history. Miners say they have worked at the site since 2012, forming an association named Danangwe District Youth and Mining Cooperative. At its peak, membership in the cooperative reached 6,500, including some 500 women. The previous operator, a company focused on exploration, mounted little opposition to their presence and there is no record of serious unrest. Although some fighting did occur, for the most part the cooperative seems to have maintained order in its ranks: it was organised into divisions responsible for administration, security and other functions.
The cooperative had ties to both local and national politicians. Its establishment coincided with Mugabe's campaign for the 2013 election, in which youth employment and indigenisation - many mines are foreign-owned - were key messages. A cooperative member named a local politician as "patron", although it is unclear what this support entailed beyond encouragement and whether he was motivated by personal connections or monetary gain. The cooperative's president was able to secure meetings at the ministry of mines, with Chitando's predecessor, and at FPR.
After Breckridge took over the site in 2015, the cooperative attempted to formalise its position by obtaining a tribute for one of the company's dozens of mining claims making up Giant mine. In 2016, the parties signed such an arrangement for six months, a period they entered negotiations to extend. Under this arrangement, the cooperative received 40 per cent of revenue and Breckridge 60 per cent, with the cooperative willing to take a lower share if Breckridge would fund a mill to improve returns to labour.
The years 2017-2018 marked a sudden shift in both Zimbabwe's political landscape, with Mnangagwa taking over from the ousted Mugabe, and the Danangwe Cooperative's fortunes. With Mugabe gone, the cooperative's local sponsor lost political influence. In 2018, Breckridge obtained a court order for its expulsion. A lawyer representing the cooperative claims that he obtained a competing court order allowing the artisanal miners to continue working, although Crisis Group could not verify that this document exists. In 2019, police executed the eviction order in a major operation, killing at least one artisanal miner in the process.
D. Three Mines: Lessons from Commonalities and Contrasts
All three case studies contain a strong common thread: in Zimbabwe gold mining, politics are king. Political interests shape the interactions among industrial mining companies, artisanal miners and security forces - and the resulting violence. Crisis Group research has unearthed similar dynamics elsewhere in Africa, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sahel countries, but the political interference in Zimbabwe is particularly blatant.
Although miners, both industrial and artisanal, sometimes manage to turn these political interests to their advantage, Zimbabwe's fickle politics mean that in the long term, neither party comes out the unequivocal winner. Jumbo mine's owners miscalculated the political support they could muster and ultimately lost out, which cost them a number of mining assets that they likely had to sell at a discount due to recent violence. The company operating Gaika has seen its site cleared of most artisanal miners, but suffered damage to its assets and the name of its mine is now connected to reports of violence, which can scare off investors. Artisanal miners in Jumbo and Gaika made good money for a brief time, but did so in dangerous conditions and ultimately saw their livelihood disappear. Although Breckridge at Giant seems to have won its battle with artisanal miners, it faces the continuous risk - as does any industrial mining company in Zimbabwe - that this situation will change if challenged by a better-connected group of artisanal miners.
For those in positions of political power as well, not all that glitters is gold. At the local level, those associated with the worst reports of violence, like Mupereri, tend to be politically expendable. At the national level, the out-of-hand machete gang violence leads to criticism of government leaders, particularly Mnangagwa and Mines Minister Chitando, damaging their position vis-à-vis ZANU-PF allies, who are getting nervous about the 2023 elections. Violence, disrupted production and smuggling starve the state's coffers and hurt Mnangagwa's ability to deliver on advertised plans to achieve a $12 billion mining economy by 2023. The IMF, which holds the key to international assistance for Zimbabwe, has questioned the government's transactions with Tagwirei.
Beyond the question of politics, it is striking that the mine owners of the three sites are at least somewhat willing to cooperate with artisanal miners and are likely to be even further so inclined if the legal system becomes able to enforce such bargains. Breckridge was ready to enter a short-term tribute arrangement with Danangwe, even if only when it had political connections, and is rumoured to have entered one with a different cooperative after Danangwe's expulsion. Duration Gold, which was adamant that a tribute arrangement at Gaika was not acceptable, has similar "right to mine" relationships with artisanal miners at one of its other properties. In the past, the company has also attempted to assist small-scale miners in organising and planned to finance an eco-friendly gold milling centre for a nearby artisanal mining cooperative. As for Metallon, at another mine it owns, the Redwing mine, it is partner to a reasonably successful arrangement with an artisanal mining cooperative, whose level of organisation it praises.
Contrasts among the three mining sites also provide glimmers of insight into how to decrease violence in Zimbabwe's gold mining sector. First, the experience at Jumbo, the most violent of the three, suggests that inoperative mines are especially likely to become targets for invasion by artisanal miners, underlining how disputes over FPR gold pricing policies that lead to mine closures can foster local instability.
Secondly, the sites' different experiences illustrate the importance of avenues for dispute resolution and holding the government to account, especially effective enforcement of court decisions by police. At Gaika, Mupereri's ability to ignore court orders almost certainly prolonged strife between Duration Gold and artisanal miners and decreased both the operating company's confidence that cooperation with artisanal miners can succeed and its willingness to invest in community projects. At Jumbo, unresolved disputes between Metallon and the government about moving foreign currency out of the country and underpayment turned a once successful mine into a hotspot of violence. By contrast, the Danangwe cooperative had resolved disputes among its members and mediated with the industrial owner for several years, although this situation has proved fragile and subject to changes of political winds.
Thirdly, the experience at Giant teaches that where artisanal miners are well organised into cooperatives, these associations can become an avenue for dispute resolution among artisanal miners, as well as between artisanal and industrial miners, though again political changes can upset what are often fragile arrangements. This insight echoes that derived from studies of artisanal mining in other countries, where scholars deem organisation of artisanal miners into groups as similarly crucial to avoid the pitfalls of artisanal mining.
V. Finding Nuggets of Progress
Violence in the Zimbabwe mining sector is an ill of the country's patronage economy, which needs reform above and beyond the scope of this report. Nonetheless, the Mnangagwa government, mining companies, civil society and international actors can take steps to address the situation even absent root-and-branch changes.
A. The Government: Jump-start Stalled Reforms
Mnangagwa should rebalance his government's priorities to generate support for mining sector reform. Broadly speaking, he needs to revive Zimbabwe's ailing economy if he is to deliver on promises to donors and potential investors, retain his party members' confidence and maintain his position. To do so, he will have to give greater weight to reforms in the gold mining sector.
First would be to instruct Minister of Mines Chitando to reinvigorate efforts to amend the Mines and Minerals Act, which have lost momentum. To lend artisanal miners greater agency and stimulate their self-organisation, the revised act should give legal standing to miners' cooperatives. In addition, the act should make small-scale mining a distinct category under the law, as proposed in the newest draft. Furthermore, lawmakers should consult with industrial mining companies about additional arrangements they could enshrine in law, such as the "right to mine", that would make it attractive for mining companies to cooperate with artisanal and small-scale miners. For the ministry of mines to lead a formalisation effort, its unit tasked with aiding artisanal miners in organising, acquiring formal licences and growing into small-scale miners will need more resources. The ministry of finance, which is the focal point of the international financial institutions' efforts to improve economic governance in Zimbabwe, is a key ally in all these efforts.
Secondly, to keep mines up and running, and to combat gold smuggling, which empties the state's coffers and encourages violence, Minister Chitando should work with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and its gold buying arm FPR to pay industrial and artisanal miners fully in U.S. dollars, at the international gold price minus taxes and reasonable administration costs. FPR recently made some progress toward this goal, increasing the U.S. dollar share of payments. Chitando and the Reserve Bank should also refrain from giving out special licences allowing third parties to buy gold, and retract any licences already awarded, as they provide avenues for undercutting state royalties that are difficult to monitor. In addition, FPR should abolish minimum delivery quantities, which de facto exclude artisanal miners from selling their produce legally. Furthermore, FPR in its reporting should distinguish between purchases from artisanal miners, on one hand, and small-scale miners on the other, to offer the Zimbabwe government better insight into the relative contributions from both sectors.
Lastly, Chitando should seek means of improving dispute resolution and transparency in the gold mining sector. Given Zimbabwe's parlous justice system, such efforts will have to be modest and specific to mining. One step would be to establish an electronic cadastre system, which would greatly diminish the scope for malpractice in allocating mining claims. Chitando should also try out alternative forms of dispute resolution to deal with conflicts between artisanal and industrial miners, for example starting at the local level and taking existing alternative dispute resolution mechanisms as a starting point. Ideally, such mechanisms would not shy away from investigating politicians' roles in such disputes and should be backed up with consistent enforcement by police and security forces. Finally, Mnangagwa and Chitando should reinvigorate Zimbabwe's efforts to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which would require making the government's transactions with industrial mining companies, including those with Tagwirei, public.
B. Parliament: Investigate Mine Violence
Zimbabwe's parliament should reinvigorate its enquiry into violence in the gold mining sector, which it halted due to COVID-19, as soon as the pandemic calms in the country and it is safe to do so. The investigation should include specific questions about the role of politicians, police and security forces. While politicians are likely to try to hinder investigators, experience with two past parliamentary enquiries into the diamond industry suggests that a gold sector enquiry could nonetheless chasten those associated with the worst violence. Parliament should also use this enquiry to formulate recommendations for Mines Minister Chitando, based on best practices of organisation among artisanal miners and cooperation between industrial and artisanal miners. It should look at how to bolster the earning potential of women artisanal miners, for instance by loosening the eligibility criteria for the credit facility earmarked for women in mining.
C. Mining Companies: Explore Cooperation with Artisanal Miners
Mining companies operating in Zimbabwe should strive to cooperate with artisanal and small-scale miners, including by voluntarily granting tributes to artisanal mining cooperatives that refrain from violence and pushing for additional modes of cooperation to be included in Zimbabwe's mining law. This can provide companies with a strategy to both profit from sections of their mine that are industrially non-viable and decrease tensions with artisanal miners, which can cause costly production interruptions. Many companies have suffered substantial losses in confrontations with artisanal miners. Rather than wield their political connections to "solve" these problems by force, a risky strategy given the vicissitudes of Zimbabwe's politics, companies could instead cooperate with artisanal mining cooperatives where they are well organised, compliant with basic health, safety and labour standards, and open to offering opportunities for women.
Mining companies, as gathered in the Zimbabwe Chamber of Mines, should also keep pressure on the government to develop an electronic cadastre system and improve dispute resolution around mining in Zimbabwe. They should press for progress on amending the Mines and Minerals Act and the formalisation of artisanal mining, which would make cooperatives legal entities that companies can contract to.
Lastly, mining companies operating in Zimbabwe and companies in their supply chain should aid the formation of artisanal mining cooperatives, for example by providing training in health, safety and environmental standards and equipment to help artisanal miners comply with such standards. Aiding the formalisation of artisanal miners is a risk-mitigating strategy suggested by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for responsible mineral supply chains, which is increasingly promoted by metals trading centres, such as the London Bullion Market Association, and codified in European Union law. High-profile accidents or use of child labour by artisanal miners operating close to or encroaching on companies' mining sites can have serious reputational and judicial consequences for companies, even if they are not directly responsible. A host of mining companies and technology giants were recently challenged in a U.S. court when accidents killed several artisanal miners, including children, at a site from which they reportedly obtained minerals.
D. Civil Society: Help Artisanal Miners' Organise
Civil society organisations engaging with artisanal miners, such as the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association, should continue working to increase the miners' capacity to advocate for their interests with the ministry of mines. They should make special effort to ensure that women miners are welcomed into artisanal miners' organisations. Although not officially excluded from such organisations, women miners allege that their male counterparts use "cultural" beliefs, portraying women who work in mining as prostitutes and bringers of bad luck - harming miners' chances of finding high-grade ore - to keep them out of the profession.
E. Outside Parties: Set the Bar
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), the African Union's self-assessment mechanism for the performance of the continent's governments, should designate the mining sector as a priority sector for review. Mnangagwa led Zimbabwe's accession to the APRM, and both parties are likely to negotiate about priority sectors for inclusion in the review. The APRM should push to designate improvements to dispute resolution in the mining sector, formalisation of artisanal mining, reduction of violence affecting the sector and regularisation of gold exports as indicators that will affect their assessment of Zimbabwe's progress. The OECD Guidance provides some concrete indicators for measuring aspects of such progress.
Similarly, the IMF should include these indicators in its assessments of Zimbabwe's progress. The IMF wields considerable influence. A positive IMF evaluation would be one step toward regularising relationships between Zimbabwe and international financial institutions, which hold the key to financial assistance, virus-related and otherwise, and determining the country's eligibility for debt relief.
South Africa has become increasingly vocal about Zimbabwe's economic and governance challenges since late 2019 and is affected by its northern neighbour's continued economic crisis, as it leads to contentious labour emigration. South Africa signed a Bi-National Agreement with Zimbabwe in April 2015; and again in March 2019, at the annual Bi-National Commission meeting, President Cyril Ramaphosa used Pretoria's efforts to clarify the regulatory architecture of its own mining industry as part of his messaging around what is required to support Zimbabwe's economic renewal. South Africa should keep up pressure on Zimbabwe to reform its mining industry accordingly.
The Mnangagwa government, mining companies, civil society and international actors can take steps to dial back the worrying uptick of violence in Zimbabwe's gold mining sector. These include giving artisanal mining cooperatives legal standing and building capacity among the miners to pursue their livelihood in a way that benefits them, mining companies and the country's economy. To decrease smuggling, the Reserve Bank should pay gold producers commensurate with world prices. To shine a light on the patronage networks linked to gold mining, which are prominent in Zimbabwe even in comparison to other resource-rich African countries and which contribute to bloodshed around mines, parliament should resume its enquiry into machete gang violence. Cooperation between artisanal and industrial miners could be improved with new dispute resolution mechanisms and digitisation of the mining cadastre. Absent such steps, cycles of violence will recur, hurting industrial miners' profits and artisanal miners' livelihoods, not to mention President Mnangagwa's political standing.