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Situation dire due to illegal mining

21 Sep 2023

In the North East District of Botswana, on the west bank of the Ramokgwebana River which forms the border with Zimbabwe, lies a village named Matsiloje.

Unfortunately, this village is struggling with illegal mining activities as foreign nationals scavenge for the remnants of what used to be a profitable gold mine before independence.

Over the past six months, illegal mining in Matsiloje has been expanding rapidly, leading to the pollution of indigenous lands and other protected areas.

This mining is not only harming the environment but also threatening the lives and health of residents through water contamination and the destruction of forests.

A team of BOPA reporters recently visited the village to investigate the impact of illegal gold mining on the residents. The Headman of Record, Kgosi Solomon Segopa, confirmed that the situation was now out of hand, with residents living in fear and unable to move freely around the village.

Kgosi Segopa explained that  illegal miners were present throughout the village, mining gold in fields and even people’s homesteads. These miners carry dangerous tools such as axes, spades, shovels, and diggers for extraction. They also use metal detectors to locate gold nuggets, making their job easier.

According to Kgosi Segopa, the miners enter the country illegally in groups of about 30 to 40 men. They leave behind large holes from their mining activities, which not only impact the river but also damage stream flows. The miners also wash the gold in rivers, making the water harmful for human and livestock consumption.

The presence of these illegal miners also poses a major threat to those who rely on the forest for their livelihoods. Animals are at risk of falling into the burrow pits created by the miners, especially during the rainy season when the pits are widespread.

Kgosi Segopa expressed concern about the difficulty of managing these miners. Even if they are arrested and deported to their countries, they often return the next day, as they have destroyed the fence at the border.

Additionally, the miners sometimes involve underage children in their activities, taking advantage of the legal protection they have.

Kgosi Segopa also highlighted the gaps and limitations in dealing with illegal mining.

The sentences given to these miners are too lenient, with even a six-month prison term not deterring them from continuing their activities upon release.

There are signs that the illicit industry is deeply embedded in the local community, with some community members depending on rentals paid by illegal miners.

Some residents even assist these miners in transporting gold to other countries, while others have relationships with them and inform them when the police are raiding the village.

Kgosi Segopa urged residents to refrain from aiding the miners, as it hinders progress in arresting and deterring these criminals. He emphasized the importance of cooperation to address the issue effectively.

The Matsiloje Police Deputy Station Commander, Superintendent James Moikwathai, acknowledged the crisis of illegal gold mining in Matsiloje. He revealed that these miners gained access to closed deep-level mines, such as the Rainbow mine, to carry out their illegal activities. These miners use metal detectors to extract gold and smuggle. 

Superintendent Moikwathai mentioned that the miners operate in syndicates of 30 to 60 members and have large camps located in Zimbabwe near the border. Efforts by the Botswana and Zimbabwean police to destroy these camps have been met with resistance, as they seem to be re-constructed.

The large-scale mining and smuggling of gold to Zimbabwe have damaged the border line, making it easier for the miners to cross. Superintendent Moikwathai expressed concern about the involvement of locals in the growing cases of gold smuggling, as they provide surveillance for the Zimbabwean illegal miners.
Local residents harbouring these criminals make it difficult for the police to arrest them. Some residents have even been coerced into transporting gold to Zimbabwe in exchange for cash. Superintendent Moikwathai warned residents that harboring criminals is a serious offense punishable by law, urging them to refrain from doing so.

Sadly, the impact of illegal gold mining is felt by the community members, including an 80-year-old man named Royal Machola. He shared his experience as a victim of illegal gold mining at his cattle post, where miners dug gold right in the center of his kraal, leaving an open pit behind. His livestock is in danger due to the numerous burrow pits surrounding his farm.

Another villager, Maggie Mokopanele, also detailed how these illegal miners destroyed her fence and mined inside her farm. She lives with her daughter, who attends school far from their farm, and must accompany her for safety.

The situation in Matsiloje is dire due to the expansion of illegal gold mining. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Lechedzani Morapedi

Location : MATSILOJE

Event : Interview

Date : 21 Sep 2023