All that Glitters is not Gold: Turmoil in Zimbabwe's Mining Sector

Violence has spiked in Zimbabwe’s gold mining sector, costing hundreds of people their lives and triggering a police operation that led to the arrest of thousands. Media and government blame artisanal miners, who dig using little mechanisation and often without licences but are the country’s main gold producers. Yet the bloodshed is better seen as a symptom of Zimbabwe’s flawed centralised gold buying scheme, patronage-based economy and obsolete legal and regulatory system. To avert further turmoil, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government should give artisanal mining cooperatives legal standing, pay gold producers at world prices, improve mining dispute resolution and bolster law enforcement. Parliament should resume its investigation into gold-sector violence, which it halted due to COVID-19, and widen the focus to include possibly complicit politicians. Mining companies should explore further cooperation with artisanal miners. Multilateral bodies and South Africa should include assessment of the mining sector in their appraisals of Zimbabwean reform. Influential external actors, particularly the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a continental body that assesses African governments’ performance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and South Africa, should similarly press the Zimbabwe government to take action. Zimbabwe has recently acceded to the APRM and both parties will negotiate about which sectors to prioritise for a governance quality review. The APRM should push for mining to be one of these sectors, and designate improvements in mining dispute resolution, particularly establishment of a digital cadastre system, reduction of violence and regularisation of gold exports, as benchmarks for Zimbabwe’s good governance.