Gold Panners. Image credit

ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes: Natural Resources: Resource Exploitation: Gold panners in Zimbabwe

  • Zimbabwe has more than 800 000 gold panners who have invaded much of the central Highveld and areas along major rivers.
  • The number fluctuates seasonally but the sudden rise in number of the gold panners can be attributed to the harsh economic conditions that are prevailing in the country.
  • The periodic droughts also force people to look for an alternative way to earn a living.
  • While a small number of the small scale gold miners are licensed, the majority are operating illegally.

Benefits of gold panning

  • It is a source of income and wealth for the panners.
  • Increased supplies of gold to Fidelity Printers (main government buyer of gold) leads to increased foreign currency earnings for the country.
  • Gold panners are a market for informal traders.
  • Employment creation.

Problems of gold panning

  • Gold panning has resulted in numerous physical, economic and social problems.

Physical environmental problems

Environmental destruction caused by panning. Image credit

  • Destruction of vegetation.
  • Environmental degradation due to random digging of pits and trenches.
  • Soil erosion and siltation of rivers and dams.
  • Siltation also increases the frequency of flash floods.
  • Damage to marine ecosystem as aquatic plants and animals are destroyed by siltation or poisoned by mercury. The How Mine disaster is an example.
  • Pollution of water sources due to use of mercy and lack of sanitation.
  • Growth of informal settlements made of plastics and grass, shacks destroys the natural beauty of the land.
  • Open pits and trenches are danger to people and livestock.

Economic problems

  • Leakage of gold. Not all the gold is sold to the government buyer. Much of the gold is exported illegally resulting in the loss of potential foreign currency.
  • Damage of infrastructure for example, digging of tunnels along the main Bulawayo to Harare railway line disrupts train services and damage to buildings and infrastructure for example at Effel Flats primary school in Kadoma.
  • Recently gold panners invaded a forest planation in the Eastern Highlands and have destroyed valuable timber worth millions of dollars.
  • Reduced water supplies for agriculture and urban settlements due to pollution and siltation.
  • Destruction of farm lands.
  • Reductions in the tourism potential of some areas, for example, Mzingwane and Inyankuni dam areas in Matabeleland South.

Social problems

  • Exploitation of labour. Most panners work for long periods of time. There are no regular working hours and the workers lack protective clothing.
  • Much of the work is manual and the risk of accidents is very high.
  • Loss of life due to collapsing of tunnels.
  • A general increase in crime rates.
  • An increase in prostitution and the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
  • Drunkenness and other forms of disorderly behavior.

Measures to control the problems of gold panning

  • Licensing of panners.
  • Close monitoring of activities and increased police patrols.
  • Enforcing of environment laws.
  • High penalties for those who do not observe the laws.
  • Education and training of panners in environmentally friendly methods of extracting gold.

To access more topics go to the O Level Geography Notes page