Zimbabwe’s gold smuggling barons thrive amid faltering efforts to curb the trade

By Michelle Chifamba, Patrick Smith
Posted on Thursday, 10 February 2022 13:56

Illegal artisanal gold miners work at an open mine after occupying parts of Smithfield farm, owned by the former President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace Mugabe, in Mazowe
Illegal artisanal gold miners work at an open mine in Mazowe, Zimbabwe, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Winston Chitando, Zimbabwe's mines minister, and John Mangudya, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, have both promised new rules to crack down on smuggling and help small-scale miners, but the illegal trade is booming and costing the country over $1.5bn a year. Critics say the government is dragging its feet on serious reform.

The main beneficiaries of the contraband trade are well connected criminal networks in Zimbabwe and their business  partners in India, South Africa, and, most importantly, the United Arab Emirates, which launders the bulk of Africa’s smuggled gold.

Most small-scale miners in Zimbabwe, who work in dangerous conditions for only a few US dollars a day, are brutally exploited by their political and business sponsors.