By Billian Matambo

The gold smuggling feat by the daring Henrietta Rushwaya and accomplices not only shocked the country but slapped the nation in the face much to the disgust of law abiding hardworking citizens.It also opens old wounds where the country was said to have lost a staggering 15Billion dollars through corruption and illicit flows. Forget all the government hogwash about curtailing corruption and renewed efforts on accountability and prosecutions that will turn the page round. This was a no brainer, consistent with the untouchable elites.

Rushwaya is the head of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) alleged of smuggling six kilograms of gold through Harare International Airport not only shows the government laxity in their policy, but rampant thievery. It also shows the twisted political arms of the government. It was an act that needs to be thoroughly investigated and needs more that just arrests and prosecutions but many answers, and much more transparency. Speaking on a WhatsApp virtual meeting hosted on 28 October 2020 by Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Workers Union, ZIDAWU, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance CNRG Coordinator,Tapiwa Obrien Nhachi says the core issues in this case are transparency and accountabilty.“She was so confident. She knew that the airport is a high security area. The issue is to what extent have these guys been doing this? To what extent has the country lost millions if not billions of dollars this way. Who was she working with?” said Nhachi.

The nation has a lot of questions. What picture does she show the nation as the leader of the ZMF? Are government heavyweights involved in this? But considering her choice of port of exit, she seemed to have been an untouchable till hell broke out. As ZIDAWU discussed in depth on ‘Taming Minerals Smuggling and Closing The Loopholes in The Mining Sector’ it revealed a non committed government which puts rogue representatives in positions that are supposed to safeguard communities and ensure continuity of harmony between communities, government and mining companies.Rushwaya’s case is one example that highlights the powerlessness of civil society organisations and community groups when it comes to meaningful appointments in corridors of power. If civil society is struggling, who else can represent the populace? What is needed to be done?“

The issue of Rushwaya’s smuggling of gold through a highly protected area, to me it shows that civil society organisations are struggling to promote and deal with issues to deal with transparency and accountability in the sector,” said Nhachi. “I think for civil societies and communities to have an effective role, or to play a role in issues of transparency and accountability, they need to demand these from the politicians, from those who are governing our natural resources,” he added.It is imperative for mining communities and the nation to demand answers. “We need to make noise as civil society about this whole issue. We need to demand accountability and explanation. I understand this case has gone through court. We just don’t accept judgment, we have to challenge the judgment. We need a proper explanation,” said Nhachi. The case highlights the incapacitation of communities and civil organisations through the use of the security forces in mining areas and on the other side the unconcerned government that plants corrupt officials in noble positions.

A recent study of artisanal mining in Penhalonga revealed the hands of the military in that area. The industry is now run by cartels that bring in workers into communities and those workers serve their masters needs. Hence the lack of transparency and accountability. It points out to organised barons.“If you look at where artisanal mining is happening especially in Penhalonga, those artisan miners do not even come from Penhalonga. Which means between 60 and 70% of artisan miners in Penhalonga are not residents of Penhalonga or not born and bred in Penhalonga. So which means this is a clear case of organised crime at play,” said Nhachi.He also added that “if the above are not dealt with, that’s when we have cases of illicit financial flows. The country will lose. Environmental degradation will be rife. We will have confusion in the country, so we need to control and have proper government structure to curb this.”What is lacking is a nationwide condemnation of these rampant malpractices. Communities need to realise they have the numbers which they can transform into a powerful voice and if they come together with the stake holders operating in their areas and demand change, it can work.

Lessons can be drawn from the Hwange National Park coal mining that was resisted by both communities and safari companies operating in the areas. In as much as there had been licences given to companies to partake in mining, the mining was stopped. Similarly, in Nigeria communities forced the government to come up with an enforcement agent which really deals with those small but important issues that affected their societies. In Zimbabwe we need to force the state to come up with an independent and dedicated enforcement agent that is able to deal with issues of corruption.The biggest issue we have as a country is the politicisation and militarisation of our natural resources. The study conducted by CNRG unearthed a new company purportedly controlled by the country’s members of the top security Joint Operations Command, JOC. And this poses the questions of “Who dictates what to whom?” and “Will this stealing and corruption ever come to an end?”Since JOC has the mighty power in Zimbabwe yet engaging in mining, they should expect to be questioned. Nhachi went on to say, “When we talk of governance we need to look at the framework of power, the processes and the parties and how they shape the communities and how the communities access, control and use these natural resources. ”It remains of paramount importance to continue educating societies and lobbying the government for real change and this can start with communities appointing their own representatives whom they trust inorder to promote transparency and accountability issues .