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

By Patrick Smith, Michelle Chifamba

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Posted on February 10, 2022 12:56

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.

Most of the ore that they dig out is seized by intermediaries who pay the miners a pittance. State security agents, and sometimes even military personnel, also patrol the mining sites to make money instead of enforcing laws on safety and safe custody of the gold ore.

Urgent law reforms

The minister however says Zimbabwe’s mining policy framework is being revised to boost inclusivity, transparency and accountability. He also expresses optimism that Zimbabwe is on course with

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