Gold panning along public streams now legal

Gold panning along the country's streams has now been legalised provided the panners obtain the necessary permits and deposit their gold with the Reserve Bank or its agents. The panners are also required to rehabilitate their operations by backfilling.

The move, which is aimed at controlling illegal panning while at the same time preserving the environment, has so far received little publicity although Mines Minister, Chris Anderson, alluded to this last year.

Anderson, at the time, said it was high time the panners were recognised as part of the informal sector. Instead of hunting them down, he said, they should be encouraged to sell their gold to the reserve bank.

He even suggested that small-scale miners should be paid a higher price than the market rate to prevent them from selling to the black market.

Two years ago, the chamber of mines complained that although panners produced two kilograms of gold a day they only sold 1.5 kg a year to the Reserve Bank. At that time the number of panners was much smaller than it is today.

Giles Munyoro of the Small-Scale Miners' Association says there are now about 100 000 panners in the country. With the devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar and the subsequent high gold price in Zimbabwe dollar terms more people are likely to join this trade as retrenchment caused by the structural adjustment programme begins to bite.

According to statutory instrument 275 of 1991, for the purposes of working alluvial gold deposits, every council will be required to identify public streams in its area where the gold deposits may be worked on.

The council will then apply for a special grant from the secretary of mines who in turn liaises with the Natural Resources Board. The grants will be obtained after payment of a fee of $40.

Prospective panners apply for permits to exploit the gold deposits from their respective councils provided they are over 18, are of good character and reside in the council area.

The offer is also open to co-operatives, partnerships and other associations also provided their members are over 18, are of good character and reside in the council area.

The permit costs an annual fee of $20 for each 50-metre stretch and should be available at the site of operations at all times when members are working on their deposits.

The owners of the permits cannot employ any person who is not fit or responsible or who is not a resident of the council area. Any person who breaches these conditions can have his permit cancelled.

The alluvial gold operations are confined to the bed of the stream and should be conducted at least three metres from the lowest point of the naturally defined banks of the stream without disturbance to the banks.

The inspector of mines, however, may increase this distance in the interests of safety.

No person will, however, permit any working to have a vertical depth of more than 1.5 metres unless such working is terraced or sloped at an angle sufficient to ensure the safety of persons or is adequately supported.

Operators will also not be allowed to undercut or permit the undercutting of workings or the use of mechanical equipment to dig within the bed of a public stream unless a permit is issued by an inspector of mines in consultation with the provincial natural resources officer and the council authorises this.

Under the regulations, any area within the bed of a public stream which has been mined shall be rehabilitated by backfilling as mining operations progress.

All the gold mined should be sold to the Reserve Bank or its agent or to a holder of a gold dealing licence in terms of the Gold Trade Act.

The council is also required to maintain a register of all permit holders operating in its area and the gold obtained and sold.

Officers of the council, the mining commissioner, the inspector of mines, a police officer, any agent of the Reserve Bank, any officer of the Natural Resources Board or the Department of National Parks and Wildlife may check on the operations to see if the regulations are being followed.

Any person whose permit is cancelled or who is convicted of an offence in terms of the regulations shall be disqualified from obtaining a further permit for five years.

Fines of up to $2 000 or imprisonment of up to six months can be imposed on those who contravene the regulations.

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