Illegal gold miners in Chimanimani district are using prohibited lethal chemicals such as mercury in search of the precious mineral resulting in local water sources being contaminated and putting the lives of villagers, livestock, and flora and fauna at risk.
Chimanimani, a popular tourist district, is known for having the longest range of mountains in Africa and is home to more than 90 species of birds.
However, it is on the verge of environmental destruction as illegal gold miners derisively known as mashurugwi have invaded the area and are causing untold destruction.
NewZimbabwe.com caught up with the vice-chairperson of the Chimanimani Tourist Association (CTA), Collen Sibanda who has been a ranger and tour guide in the area for over 26 years.
Sibanda said he was now living in fear after taking up the task of stopping illegal gold mining activities and the destruction of the land of his birth.
He said local rivers have been poisoned through illegal mining happening at the upper streams of Chimanimani which is evident by continued deaths on inhabitants of water such as frogs when one walks around in the area.
“The situation in Chimanimani is devastating as illegal gold miners have invaded the mountains and have polluted the waters with chemicals such as mercury they use when extracting the gold,” said Sibanda.
“As you walk down the streams of Chimanimani, you find dead frogs and other inhabitants of the streams, evidence of water contamination.
“It seems as if they are backed by influential people in government since some of the areas they are extracting the mineral from are sacred and national heritage sites but they have been invaded and are not arrested.
“I live in fear now for taking action against these people and I now fear for my life as these illegal gold miners have threatened me.”
Chimanimani played a great role in the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe with the vast mountain range in the district providing cover for freedom fighter recruits crossing into Mozambique to join the struggle.
One of the sacred areas known as the Bubbling Spring or Mutsero Tseri in the area is believed to have been a place where those crossing into Mozambique had to pass through to check if they were pure and if not, were not allowed to proceed.
Recently, the sacred shrine was dug up and a tragic event happened that shocked residents. Villagers narrate that a big fish popped out of the dry land they were digging.
Julie Pierini who is the chief executive of Bird Life Zimbabwe gave an expert opinion of the situation in Chimanimani.
She noted the effect illegal gold mining had on biodiversity and that over 1 000 villagers in both Zimbabwe and neighbouring Mozambique were at risk.
“Chimanimani is an area of top biodiversity and has more than 90 bird species found in the area. So it is important to recognise the area and protect the land,” Pierini.
“The situation is likely to affect more than 1 000 people on the Zimbabwean side and across the border to Mozambique if there is no immediate response to the situation.”