BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
FOR Esnath Tshabangu, a communal farmer in Filabusi, Matabeleland South province — about 100km south-east of Bulawayo — farming is no longer a profitable business.
She used to make a reasonable living through livestock breeding where she would sell her best produce in Bulawayo in the late 1990s.
But the situation has changed now following a dramatic increase in artisanal small-scale mining, particularly gold miners, in her area.
Recently, her giant ox which she had taken to an abattoir in Bulawayo for sale was condemned for beef measles — a parasitic disease caused by cysticerus bovis — which is a cystic form of human tapeworm called Taenia saginata.
Cattle act as the intermediate host for the parasite, becoming infected through environments such as pastures that have been contaminated by infected human faeces, according to experts.
Instead of getting about US$700 from her animal, she got next to nothing as the carcass was condemned at the point of sale.
This was despite the fact that Tshabangu had incurred a number of costs such as transport, levies and clearance fees for the particular beast she intended to sell.
What a tragedy!
“Cases of cattle measles are on the upsurge in this district due to the high presence of gold panners that defecate in bushes due to lack of proper ablution facilities.
“As a result, our livestock, particularly cattle, have lost grade. This has caused us untold suffering and financial loss,” said Tshabangu while contributing to a miner-farmer conflict meeting in Killaney, Filabusi, recently.
The meeting, funded by Trocaire, was organised by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) and the Zimbabwe Project Trust (Zimpro).
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country with an economy that depends heavily on mining and agriculture sectors.
It is endowed with gold, diamonds, nickel, coal, platinum and copper, among others.
In addition, the country has a total land area of over 39 million hectares, of which 33.3 million hectares are used for agricultural purposes, producing tobacco, maize, cotton, coffee, wheat and horticulture.
Zimbabwe’s post-2000 period has been characterised by a dramatic increase in artisanal small-scale mining over agriculture, a development which has created conflicts between miners and farmers.
Farming-mining conflict has often emerged in instances where miners encroach into farming land in search of elusive minerals such as gold.
It is during this search where they destroy grazing land.
Farmers have often tried to protect their grazing land by chasing away the illegal miners, thereby resulting in clashes.
In a bid to solve these challenges, Zela and Zimpro convened a stakeholder meeting recently in Filabusi, one of the areas in Matabeleland South province which has witnessed a spike in the numbers of panners in search of gold which is said to be of high quality.
The meeting comprised of farmers, miners and policymakers who tried to raise awareness on farmer-miner conflicts, their effects, and the benefits that would accrue to the community in the event of peaceful co-existence.
It was, however, not a lovey-dovey engagement as farmers and miners exchanged harsh words.
“Currently, there are about 20 mines in this area (Killarney) and some of the mine owners are not following proper mining procedures.
“They are just mining, degrading the land for no apparent reason. So far, nine cattle and one donkey have fallen into these pits. We are being troubled by miners,” village head Bhudungu Siziba said.
“There are pits everywhere and we implore miners to do mining properly.
“Their activities have led to the destruction of roads, caused siltation, and are destroying water bodies.
“Now our livestock have nowhere to drink from. We are even afraid of eating offal for fear of contacting beef measles.”
Farmers said government departments had failed to deal with the issue since 2000.
“We have been told that mining is more important than farming,” the farmer said.
Miners, however, hit back, accusing farmers of sending their children to do illegal mining at night, only to turn around and blame them during the day.
Zela project officer Nobuhle Mabhikwa said farmer-miner conflict was prevalent everywhere.
She, however, said the conflict had been kept under wraps.
She said the conflicts were much more pronounced in areas such as Insiza, Bikita, Matopo, Chimanimani and Chipinge.
“We are going to continue lobbying and advocating for dialogue on this issue around farming and mining conflict. If we sit down and talk about it, then we will get somewhere,” she said.
“We are hoping that in the Mines Amendment Bill there is a provision for miner-farmer conflict and how they can co-exist,” she said.
Zimpro executive director Tobias Chipare said he hoped that the efforts being made to generate dialogue between miners and affected farmers would solve the challenge.
“We are saying farmers and miners should dialogue and find each other. It is very important because both of them need the same land and at the end of the day we try to support the same family,” he said.
“How do we share the same resource in a way that is sustainable to the extent that the farmer continues to benefit and also the miner continues to benefit? This is just the beginning.”
Ward 17 councillor Andrew Mpofu said conflict was a bad omen to development.
“I hope going forward, farmers and miners will start working together. Villagers should respect each other,” he said.
Matabeleland South crop and livestock officer Simangaliphi Ngwabi said miners should build toilets and fence off their mines so as to reduce cases of livestock falling into the mined areas.
“Toilets are important in the mining areas as open defecation is bad. Miners should also fence off their mines,” she said.
“This conflict should be solved now because if not, what I foresee in the near future is that grazing pastures would be depleted due to land degradation and deforestation.
“Let’s preserve our land. Seeing miners and farmers dialoguing together is the first of its kind. This will create peace.”
Insiza Rural District Council project, housing and environment officer Pardon Moyo blamed the Mines and Minerals Act as the source of farmer-miner conflict, saying it should be reviewed.
The Act gives precedence to mining over agriculture, a situation that has been a recipe for disputes as this has not gone down well with farmers.