In this second part we continue the story on illegal garnet mining in Salima by looking at how the locals—despite witnessing death and also receiving government orders—continue to mine the precious stones.
Christmas is a moment of celebration. But as the sun was setting on Thursday, Christmas Day, Susana Chimbalanga from Katote Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) in Salima, could not even afford a smile.
She was in deep pain—mourning the death of her daughter. Two-year-old Linda Jakumusi, the daughter, did not die from malaria or any other disease that threatens the life of children in Malawi.
She was safe at the back of her mother. However, she met her fate after a wall of a pit her mother was searching garnet from collapsed on the two. The mother only sustained injuries. The innocent girl and two other adults died in the incident.
The death of the three, which is the tragic part of the increased mining of garnet in Salima, is just an extreme chapter in the story of how unregulated mining can breed chaos in the country.
The question, however, is: Is Malawi a country on autopilot where everybody can do whatever they want without being regulated?
Currently, according to the laws of Malawi, every mineral in the country—of course this law is being reviewed—belongs to the President. To mean, any mining activity—be it small or large scale—that is not sanctioned by the President, through the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, is illegal. So it is with garnet mining in Salima and so it is with the miners.
Of course, barely few days after the death of the three, government, through the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, responded quickly with plans, just plans, of stopping the illegal mining of the stone.
The ministry’s principal secretary Ben Botolo told Weekend Nation that officials from his ministry toured the site. He added they also met with the chiefs and district council officials, including the district commissioner and the police.
The agenda of such meetings, he continued, was to ask communities to stop mining garnet.
“The problem is that these people have no expertise in mining; so it is very dangerous for them. We, therefore, are planning to ask them not to continue with the mining process,” he said.
Asked as to what would happen to anyone found mining at the site, Botolo was quick to say that considering that enforcement is something very difficult, the ministry will firstly issue a press statement through the local newspapers ordering the stoppage.
He added it is hard for the ministry to come up with measures to be placed on those found mining but said he was optimistic that the community would listen.
Botolo, however, was cautious on the implementation of the order, arguing there is a need for them to revisit the Mining Act before punishing whoever will be caught in the act after the press statement.
“The problem is that some of the people are telling us that they are just following the river flow and once they come across the stone, they are picking them up and selling them. So, if we are not careful enough in conducting this process, then people may end up blaming us for abusing our fellow citizens,” he said.
Speaking in a separate interview, acting Salima Police officer-in-charge Felister Mazenga confirmed to have attended the meeting.
She was, however, quick to say that the meeting did not reach its conclusion as they have set aside January 5 2015 as the date for the final meeting where the team will meet all villages around the area to map the way forward.
Senior Chief Kalonga, under whose jurisdiction the site belongs, also confirmed being part of the meeting and said he was entrusted with the task of mobilising the community to attend the January 9 meeting.
Kalonga says at the end of the first meeting, communities have been advised to keep themselves away from searching garnet from the river as that activity poses a greater risk to their lives.
“Although we did not complete the meeting but some of the issues discussed were that those doing the mining should have licences so, too, with the buyers. For my people, they have been asked never to look for garnet in and along the river for their own safety,” he said.
Kalonga added that he is hopeful that his people will listen.
However, when Weekend Nation visited the site on Monday and Tuesday this week, it was business as usual at the banks of Lilongwe River. Hundreds were still camping on the banks and hundreds were still spread along the river, like a swarm of bees, mining garnet.
One of the miners, who opted for anonymity, bluntly told Weekend Nation that it would take a band of police officers with guns invading the area to stop him from mining. Words alone, he added, can hardly, even an inch, move him.
“You see, we are making money here. Big money. We witnessed our brothers dying last week when the pit fell on them. It was a painful loss and we mourned their departure. But we believe it was just their time. Their death cannot stop us to continue living—fending for ourselves,” he said.
He added: “This year I have not gone to the garden. Garnet will answer all my farming problems. So, I cannot just leave this place. I just can’t, it is difficult.”
As the man spoke, six other around kept on nodding their heads and clapping their hands in agreement.
Of course, Botolo, to some extent, is counting on the rains as a natural force to chase the miners away. He argues that the garnet is being found, today, because the river is drying.
“When heavy rains begin, all the garnet here will be washed away by the river,” he said, adding: “It will be difficult for them to continue mining because the stone will be scarce.”
However, as Botolo indicated in our previous entry, if heavy rains wash garnet away from Salima, it is likely that it will be whisked, again, to some village somewhere in Malawi. To mean, the Salima garnet problem will be transferred there. If, as locals revealed to Weekend Nation, garnet is generating income for them, what will stop those where the fortune will fall on them, not to?
That is why there is a need for a grand strategy—one driven by the philosophy of preparedness not response—to govern small-scale mining in Malawi.
So how should that grand strategy look like?