Some civil society organisations (CSOs) in the extractive industry have warned that more small-scale miners will continue dying if the government does not organise, fund and train them into professional artisans.
Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) chairperson Kossam Munthali sounded the warning on Wednesday after a man was crashed to death by a rock in a crudely-dug mine in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mazengera in Lilongwe last week.
The latest incident brought the death toll among the irregular miners[–who are often referred to as illegal miners–to over six between August last year and January this year.
Expressing regret for the deaths and consoling the bereaved, Munthali faulted the government for resisting to embrace the small miners who are using crude implements in prospecting for the mineral deposits like gold, sapphire in their communities and earn some money from selling the same.
The chairperson of NRJN, a grouping of some 30 local and international CSOs, said the government has ignored the reasoning of the CSOs that the government should embrace the small miners, who are usually exploited by foreigners for labour and cheap mineral nugget purchases. It should train and fund them into licensed cottage enterprises from which the government will gain fees and royalties.
“It is over seven years now since our network, for example, began lobbying for the community training sessions. All this time, the government has been paying lip service to the idea, even on a precautionary basis,” Munthali lamented.
He doubted if the government will wake up to the need to provide soft loans to the miners, as such a move would be in line with Section 13 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, which is compelling the government to uplift the welfare of rural people.
Intoned Munthali: “It is a great concern that each year we hear about avoidable deaths in the small-scale mines.”
But Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson Sangwani Phiri, argued that government cannot train people who do not exist in their records.
He branded them as illegal miners because of not registering with government on the type of mining they are doing. It is only after registration is done that such miners will be recognised and can be beneficiaries of the specialised training sessions they need, he added.
“First of all, let me put it straight here that government was misquoted on training small-scale miners. Government cannot train people who do not exist. Those are illegal miners. We have the capability of training those that have come forward to register with us.
He stressed that apart from stopping people from indulging in illegal mining, the government has constantly run civic education exercises on life-threatening prospects in crude mining.
Munthali, however, argued that the focus should not be premised on the legality of the miners’ businesses but on their efforts to fetch money for supporting their families and beat the poverty they face.
He reasoned that by not training small miners, government is also losing revenue, as they are not yet linked to business moguls dealing with mining products.
Currently, the sector has been identified as one of the country’s growth sectors and government wants it to contribute about 20 percent to GDP by 2024.
In a questionnaire response, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining told the Weekend Nation in Lilongwe: “The scramble for minerals in Malawi is a long-standing issue which cripples the national economy through illegal mining. It is the wish of government that those involved should come forward to get licences, as required. Up to now, not many Malawians have cultivated a culture of investing in the mining sector.
“They (Malawians) have not embraced mining as their other source of financial wealth, while those from West Africa take mining as their main source of wealth due to their long-time mining culture inculcated in them for centuries, now. So, let Malawians venture into this new and emerging source of livelihood –which is mining.”
From September 2013 to August 2014, Malawi carried out a high resolution countrywide airborne geophysical survey, dubbed Kauniuni.
Conducted under the Mining Governance and Growth Support Project and with support from the World Bank and the European Union, the exercise was aimed at generating up-to-date geophysical information complemented by geological and geochemical information.
Many Malawians do not know that the government publicised the Kauniuni results two years ago at a meeting in Lilongwe. Officials add that apart from the results being kept in the office of the director of Geological Surveys in Lilongwe, they are also available in all government institutions in districts across the country.
But many Malawians wish for greater civic education over the Kauniuni survey results which show locations rich with the country’s mineral resources. They claim some foreign miners have utilised these results more than their Malawian hosts.
It is said that after buying several reported gold and sapphire nuggets in T/A Mazengera’s area, one foreign national excitedly exclaimed: “Malawi is truly surprisingly rich in minerals! I have been engaging in the illegal mining business in most neighbouring countries but nowhere else could we find such minerals so easily—by merely digging so shallowly.” n