Tag Archives: gold

Mining farmers and farming miners: what opportunities for accumulation?

This blog starts a short series of reviews of recent papers on Zimbabwe. First up is an excellent paper by Grasian Mkodzongi (from the Tropical Africa-Land and Natural Resources Research Institute in Harare) and Sam Spiegel (from the University of Edinburgh) in the Journal of Development Studies, entitled “Artisanal Gold Mining and Farming: Livelihood Linkages and Labour Dynamics after Land Reforms in Zimbabwe”.

In the post-land reform setting, the relationship between farming and small-scale artisanal mining is increasingly important (see an earlier blog). This is especially so in areas where there are large mineral deposits, such as along the Great Dyke, as in the study area in this paper in Mhondoro-Ngezi near Kadoma. Sam Moyo described the land reform as ‘liberating’ natural resources, and those who took the land have exploited mineral resources as a complement to farming, either through opening up new areas or mining old deposits.

Gold is a key mineral resource and mining takes many forms, ranging from exploitation of alluvial sources along rivers and streams, or digging below ground to seams below. Small-scale artisanal mining, however, very often remains illegal and criminalised, making the negotiation of access to new mineral resources tricky.

A complex network of actors

The paper explores three neighbouring farms, which are now A1 settlements and examines the different associations with mining among a complex network of actors. In particular, the paper explores differential accumulation dynamics in artisanal mining, and the complex links between farming and mining. Based on qualitative interviews, the paper offers some interesting profiles of people who combining mining and farming in different ways. There is huge differentiation in roles and opportunities for accumulation.

Young men in particular are involved in the hard labour involved in mining. Many come from other areas, and work in the land reform farming areas, often in cooperative groups. Those with land in the resettlement areas may hire in groups of labourers to exploit deposits in their areas, working out a share of profits. Farmers may provide equipment, or they may join up with others to supply the range of digging and processing equipment required. Key players are ‘sponsors’ who allow the sale of gold. They may have contracts with the government-sanctioned buyers, or they may engage in illegal trade, linked to smuggling networks to South Africa.

The ‘sponsors’ include a mix of politicians, security personnel, civil servants and others with political connections. Able to manoeuvre through the system (or avoid it), they are able to extract significant surpluses from the growth of artisanal mining. That much of it remains illegal is to their advantage, as they can exploit the system. Joining the local group of ‘sponsors’ are others too. Chinese entrepreneurs are involved, either in the buying trade or in support for extraction through the supply of equipment and contract arrangements with farmers with deposits or labourers digging or panning. The paper offers some insights into the murky networks of sponsors, illegal trade and political patronage, but – for obvious reasons – much of this remains opaque (see discussion in another blog).

As a result of this complex set-up, the relationships between mining and farming livelihoods are varied. Unlike their counterparts in the cities who have no jobs and increasingly limited opportunities (as seen with the riots in January), rural youth can migrate to mining/gold panning areas in search of work. Operating in cooperatives, they may be able to bargain, but the terms are poor. Work is harsh and dangerous too, and returns are small. This is survival labour rather than offering any opportunity for improvement. However for their livelihoods, and for those of their immediate kin, living either in the area, or often in the areas to the north, where mining has long been a key part of livelihood activity, these meagre earnings are important.

For those with land, the benefits of land reform include not only the opportunity to farm on larger plots, but to exploit the mineral resources below ground. Many do not have formal permits, but illegal operations continue. In areas, such as the study areas reported on in this paper, the land is pock-marked with old shafts and mining pits, often long-abandoned. These have may have been rehabilitated by farmers, although certainly not to any approved safety standard. New deposits have also been found in many farms, both on the surface and below ground, and these too have attracted investment to ensure exploitation. This involves the mobilising of resources for equipment, as well as labour.

The relationship between farming and mining is complex. Some shift towards mining but keep their plots going for subsistence food, including feeding mining labour. Others see mining as a complement to farming, which remains the more stable, secure income source. As interviews in the paper noted, mining requires patience. You may not find anything for ages, and so need other sources of income, and food, to keep going. But sometimes it pays dramatically, and this new source of funds can be vital for new investment – both on and off the farm.

Pathways of investment and accumulation

As the paper outlines, the way mining revenues are invested varies between different people. For labourers, immediate consumption items may be the most important, notably food. However, for others, particularly with mining windfalls, there are opportunities for investing in farming, housing or other assets, such as livestock, or alternatively in off-farm businesses, including in local towns. Who invests in what, the paper suggests, depends on their origins. The new resettlements include people from all walks of life. Most came from other rural areas, and they see farming as the best route to livelihood improvement. Others came from town, and they have aspirations and connections to allow investment in businesses and other urban-based enterprises that become linked to their farming and mining operations.

Across the gold value chain, there are varied accumulation opportunities. Some are able to move up the value chain, buying equipment, establishing more formalised arrangements, and moving into dealing. Others, as mentioned, invest their resources in improving farming or setting up off-farm businesses. Unlike in other cases of mining booms elsewhere in Africa (or indeed in Zimbabwe, such as the early Marange diamond rush), there is less ‘hot money’, involving ostentatious consumption and purchasing of flash items. It happens, but for most involved, the focus is on improving livelihoods, investment and accumulation.

Those in these rural settings are thus ‘accumulating from below’, making use of local resources to invest and improve livelihoods through different pathways. However, there are also those ‘accumulating from above’, engaged in what the paper sees as ‘primitive accumulation’ through direct exploitation. The use of political patronage networks to capture trading opportunities means that the ‘sponsors’ – the king-pins in the value chain – can call the shots, and make serious money.

Here investment is focused in bigger business investments – from networks of shops to transport businesses and so on – with some having connections outside the country, making sure new mineral wealth is protected from the chaos of the Zimbabwe economy. This trajectory of accumulation is not available to anyone. You can move up the value chain only so far, as these key positions are protected through networks and connections. These of course shift with the political winds, but those involved in production rarely get a look in.

Complex mining-farming intersections

The paper therefore paints a diverse picture of social differentiation and patterns of accumulation, linked to complex intersections of farming and mining. This is a poorly understood, yet important, dynamic.

Moves to legalise and formalise artisanal mining through the offering of permits and licenses are afoot, but it will be important to have more studies of this sort that examine the complexities of mining-farming relationships and the economic, social and political dynamics of gold value chains to assess whether such moves will have the desired impacts.

Given Zimbabwe’s mineral-rich geology, mining and farming (as happened before on the large-scale farms) will always be intimately connected, at least in some parts of the country. Thinking about the use of resources – both land and minerals – in an integrated way, and how their use affects different livelihoods, is an essential task. This paper is an important contribution towards this aim.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

Photo credit: Business Daily News, Zimbabwe

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The political economy of small-scale mining in Zimbabwe

There was much discussion about small-scale and artisanal mining at the STEPS Centre’s Resource Politics conference last month. This is where resources and politics come together; perhaps especially so in Zimbabwe.

Ever since the enactment of  Zimbabwe’s Mines and Minerals Act, which gives the state rights over mineral resources wherever they are found, mining has been controversial. In the colonial period, the Act gave precedence to miners over other colonists making use of the land, including for farming, forestry and ranching. The colonists of Rhodesia failed to find a second Rand, but the mineral resources of Zimbabwe are nevertheless rich. And with recent discoveries – notably diamonds in Marange and platinum in various parts of the country – mining has been the source of hot politics and big bucks.

But beyond the international debates about ‘blood diamonds’, certification and scandals and speculation about corrupt deals between politicians, Chinese corporations and other mining firms, there is another set of contests over access to and control over resources going on. This is focused on small-scale or artisanal mining – sometimes through concessions (or at least leases within concessions), sometimes completely informal, as in much of the alluvial gold panning. Since the early 1990s, in large part as a response to drought and impending hunger, many people, especially in the drier parts of the country, have taken to mining/mineral extraction as a source of livelihoods.

Estimates vary, but several million people are regularly making at least part of their livelihood from mining. This is often a precarious, dangerous and risky endeavour, as Clifford Mabhena and others describe. Dealers in gold (this is the dominant mineral extracted in this way) often operate monopolies or cartels and panners and miners may not get the best deal. International gold prices have been on the decline recently, so returns are low. The police and corrupt officials are always on the look-out for making a cut, so mining is embroiled in a mesh of patronage relations. It is incredibly hard work, and dangerous, especially when mercury is used in the process. Although the data is limited, recent work shows that over 70% of small-scale miners have some level of mercury poisoning.

In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was at the forefront of supporting small-scale mining as a livelihood option. This was a response to the growth of illegal alluvial panning, with the idea that upgrading and formalising would create more viable and long-term sources of employment and livelihood. Various projects, including from the likes of ITDG/Practical Action and SNV, supported the development of small-scale operations. The investment in appropriate technology and business skills resulted in some significant successes. At the same time the government decentralised control over mining regulation and revenue collection to Rural District Councils. Although there were problems, it meant that councils were able to target local entrepreneurs, and support them.

All this changed in the mid-2000s. At the height of the economic crisis, the Reserve Bank, under Gideon Gono, decided to recentralise control over mining. The rationale was the ‘rampant’ environmental destruction caused as many more took to gold panning and illegal, informal small-scale mining to make ends meet. The Bank was also in desperate need of revenues, and tax collection and other fees were not being collected due to the collapse of the state machinery, and there was a massive leakage of potential government revenue, justifying, they argued, a more centralised approach. At face value, the response followed in the footsteps of many other global initiatives trying to ‘formalise’ a sector, and reduce its environmental damage.

The result was Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (no more illegal mining) starting at the end of 2006. This had many echoes of Operation Murambatsvina, applied to informal housing and markets, with a technocratic, modernist legitimation being applied to an essentially political act. For Operation Murambatsvina, it was related in part to regaining control over urban areas by ZANU-PF, while for Operation Chikorokoza Chapera it was more about capturing revenue streams at the centre, and redirecting patronage around mining. The result was disastrous for small-scale mining and people’s livelihoods, as explained in a series of papers by Sam Spiegel, based on work in Kadoma, Insiza and Umzingwani. The crack-down involved the full might of the state-military-security complex. Thousands were arrested (some 25,000 between 2006 and 2009, with 6000 still in prison in 2013), others were beaten, and people’s property was destroyed and confiscated.

And what came in its place? The formal, regulated mining operations that were allowed under the new regulations were run by a combination of elite business people, always with good political connections, sanctioned groups (such as the well-connected Zimbabwe Women in Mining), and outsider investors with good political links, including a range of Chinese companies. Operating at this scale requires capital and investment, and to get past the environmental regulations which were insisted on is pricey, with most EIAs tagged at over $4000. This excluded most informal sector miners, except as part of groups or mediated by ‘sponsors’, well-connected mining barons.

Because of the provisions of the Mining Act, mineral concessions supersede any other land use. While most large concessions are held by large mining conglomerates in established fields, the Ministry of Mines, under Obert Mpofu, has been handing out concessions in a large numbers of areas to new operators. While notionally controlled by environmental and other regulations, the central political backing of new mining operators is such that they often gain precedence – including over (relatively) newly allocated land reform farms. We visited an A2 farm on the outskirts of Gwanda that was completely devastated by surface mining. A concession had been granted to a well-connected group, and the farmer, despite being an A2 land holder and well connected himself at the local level, was at a loss. The cattle herd that he had built up on the farm over the past years since acquisition were grazing on a small portion, and mostly along the road. His farm had become worthless.

The consequence of the crackdown and the shift of focus to a ‘formal’ sector, ‘modern’, ‘regulated’ approach to mining was that informal mining went further underground, became more corrupt (more people to pay off) and became a more vulnerable source of livelihoods given its illegality. But informal mining has certainly not gone away. The bans and crackdowns cannot prevent livelihoods – as in the past under the draconian laws of the Natural Resource Board that implemented environmental legislation as a form of disciplining with ‘scientific’ rationale. The capacity to regulate and control is inevitably limited, so people find a way around. Technology has helped, with metal detecting equipment – notably the ubiquitous ‘Vuvuzela’ that arrived in the country around the time of the South Africa hosted World Cup – having made things cheaper and faster if you can get hold of the equipment (which is now cheap and easy). And the ‘makorokoza’ (informal miners) are increasingly organised and vocal, often reflecting young people’s dismay at the stance of the state, and associated elites, with threats to invade mines and challenge the mining barons and the patronage based economy.

In our study sites, particularly in the drier south of Masvingo and Matebeland South – small-scale mining and illegal panning is widespread and essential for livelihoods. Recourse to modernist and environmental rhetoric to justify elite grabbing of resources is a well-known move in Zimbabwe as elsewhere, but if the state was genuinely interested in inclusive development and environmental protection, it should return to some of the lessons learned in the 1990s, and develop a more integrated, decentralised and broad-based mining policy. And this has to come with a long overdue revision of the Mines and Minerals Act. With its colonial origins, it should no longer have such a purpose and a more balanced and equivalent perspective on land and resource use needs to be enshrined in law. All this will benefit people, the environment – and the exchequer. Unfortunately the current political economy of mining means this is unfortunately rather unlikely.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Zimbabwe’s gold rush: livelihoods for the poor or a patronage economy, or both?

One of the features of the post 2000 economy in Zimbabwe has been the growth in small-scale artisanal gold mining. This is sometimes registered with the ministry, but very often not, and remains informal and illegal. The small-scale panners, makorokoza, can be found in very large numbers in the dry season along the main rivers of Zimbabwe. They are mostly men under 35, and so represent a particular, often disenfranchised, demographic.  Many were too young to benefit from the land reform in 2000, and although some are resident on the new resettlements, combining farming with off-season panning has become an important livelihood mix.

While much international attention has been focused on diamond mining, and the human rights abuses that have taken place in the Marange fields in the east of the country (see papers by Nyamunda and and Mukwambo  and Bond and Sharife), there has been less commentary on gold mining. While the diamond fields have been taken over by a strong-arm alliance of government, the military and foreign investors, removing all small-scale diamond miners, the mining of gold is different.

Small-scale mining peaked in 2008 with the collapse of the formal economy. As formal mining receipts declined, the small-scale operations boomed, with much of the product being traded illegally and smuggled out of the country. The official statistics, like for agriculture, show massive declines, but in fact around 2 million people were involved in small-scale mining in this period. Clifford Mabhena has shown how artisanal mining has complemented land reform, as new farmers seek off-farm opportunities, particularly in times of drought

Another recent paper by Showers Mawowa explores the gold rush phenomenon based on research near KweKwe. He argues that the gold rush in his area should not be seen just as a form of local ‘survivalist’ strategies of the poor, but as a site of political control and accumulation by elites, part of a ‘patronage economy’.  In Mawowa’s study area in KweKwe, former farm and mine workers rather than resettlement farmers were the new miners. Many gold panners collect tiny quantities, but are reliant on mills owned by registered small-scale mines for processing.  There is a mix of alluvial panning in the open near rivers or the exploitation of disused shafts where mining takes place underground. Both types of operation may involve hundreds of individuals often working in highly dangerous conditions. The environmental damage of such intense gold rushes can be immense.

This new form of production creates new social and political relationships. Mawowa characterises this as a process of primitive accumulation by elites who control the processing and marketing operations. They are also able to subvert the regulations, and are often involved in shady, illegal activities. While there are a plethora of laws governing mining, with recent stringent regulations from the Environmental Management Authority for example, they are implemented only sporadically, and often arbitrarily. Raids by the police may happen around election times, when local big-wigs want to assert control, while at other times operations go untouched, with accusations of kick-backs and bribes.

In his fascinating account, Mawowa shows how alliances between miners are formed to control particular areas. They may form ‘syndicates’ that may be controlled by locally-powerful individuals, including chiefs or party officials. Access to gold resources may result in sometimes violent struggles between such groups, with clashes between ‘locals’ and ‘outsiders’ and between different political factions within ZANU-PF.

The story Mawowa and others tell for Zimbabwe is familiar in other areas where artisanal mining has taken off in a big way, whether in Latin America (as in the work of Tony Bebbington and others) or elsewhere in Africa (as in the work of Deborah Bryceson and colleagues). Mawowa interprets this in terms of elite accumulation characterised by corruption, but as he notes new livelihoods have been created too. He does not make the contrast though with what went before. Once controlled by a few companies – in the Kwekwe case a Canadian mining company that owned Empress and Venice mines, closed in the 1980s and 90s – mining activity – and so livelihood opportunities and employment – is now spread among a far wider group.

This reconfiguration of the economy attracts patronage from those in power – and this most certainly includes ZANU-PF officials – but in this case these include village headmen, councillors, bureaucrats in district offices and local politicians. These characters may be connected to others higher up for sure, but the new economy oils many wheels on the way. As Mawowa concedes there are many ‘rags to riches’ stories in the villages.

Certainly in the period before the Marange diamond field clampdown this is what we found in Masvingo, as youth returned to their villages with fancy consumer goods, but also with cash to invest in farming. He also notes that many of the local beneficiaries of patronage are often ‘low ranking’ officials and people like headmasters and councillors. Even if there are shadowy figures behind them, further up the chain, it may be difficult to define such people as elites, even if their outward political affiliation is towards ZANU-PF; whether out of belief or very often out of strategic pragmatism (what Grasian Mkodzongi calls ‘performing ZANU-PF’).

There are perhaps two ways then of thinking about these mining-based ‘patronage economies’. One is to condemn the rent-seeking, accumulation and elite control, and seek rational bureaucratic order and the implementation of controls, presumably allowing larger-scale formal operations to take the place of the informal sector. This would presage a return to the past, and a form or regulated and probably even more elite (probably foreign-controlled) capitalism. Alternatively, following the arguments of David Booth, Tim Kelsall and others, an argument could be made that there are developmental advantages of ‘working with the grain’, accepting that elite capture is somehow inevitable in the operation of capitalism, but that gains may well be shared through such patron-client networks, and there are actually not only survivalist but also developmental benefits of broad-based, distributed, informal economic activity.

These alternatives are of course not either/or, and there are many shades of grey between. However, the focus of so much writing on the corrupt practices of the ZANU-PF connected elite, including many of the contributions to the JSAS special issue that includes Mawowa’s paper, often fails to delve further into the practical, distributional consequences of new forms of economic organisation. While I would be the first to condemn much of the practice that Mawowa documents, I think there is probably another side to the story that is also worthy of telling.

Some interviews with some of the successful miners, traders and associated business people would be definitely interesting. It would be fascinating to learn for example how artisanal mining has changed their livelihoods and future prospects, and how such investment has been channelled into the local economy. This could in turn be contrasted with the experience of former mine workers in large-scale mines (perhaps even the same people), and how such enterprises had an impact on local livelihoods and economies. Rather like the contrast between the assumed successful, ordered and regulated commercial farming sector of the past and the assumed disorderly, chaotic and informal land reform farming areas, there may be some surprising, and challenging, findings.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized