By Ernest K Mando
While mining is often linked to mineral extraction the world over, the growing demand for sand due to urbanisation has lately seen the concept being utilised in sand extraction issues too. With urbanisation on persistent rise coupled with high unemployment rate in Zimbabwe, most youths have turned to illegal sand mining commonly known as sand poaching. Reports show that as at 20 November 2020, urbanisation rate was around 32 percent while unemployment rate stood at 4.99 percent in the same year. With both rates expected to continue rising, it means we are likely to experience not only more employment crisis but also health and housing problems among other social problems in the near future.
The rise in urban population in most towns around the country such as Harare has culminated in the rapid growth of infrastructures particularly residential houses. In some cases, houses are being developed under bogus real estate agencies that have seen some citizens duped off their hard earned money. The demand for sand in particular has turned some urban and peri-urban areas into hotspots of illegal sand mining. In Harare, such has been witnessed in Retreat farm, some parts of Kuwadzana, Epworth and Hopley Farm to mention a few. Sand is being extracted illegally from these areas in order to meet the voracious demand for sand in the face of urban expansion. Despite the existence of a substantial number of registered sand mining companies capable of meeting the sand demand for construction, most youths have equally found a lucrative industry in illegal sand mining. Sand poaching has turned more of a formal industrial activity where youthful men and women travel distances every morning to their sites and back their homes around 4 pm for sand extraction and selling business. On the other hand, temporary and sub-standard roads have been created for transporters most of which operate illegally and are owned by the land owners (those who own claims).
All these activities have put the community and environment under serious threat. Reports indicate that once sand has been exhausted, open gullies left have claimed the lives of children especially during the rainy season. More so, the open pits have been favourable habitats for mosquitoes exposing surrounding community to risk of malaria infections. Because sand poachers operate illegally, they do not reclaim the land once the resource has been exhausted. Besides land degradation, sand poachers operate the whole day in these hotspot areas without any public toilet. Apparently, they practise open defecation and the waste transported in solution and suspension into rivers and dams that are used by the community for domestic purposes. Indeed, this is a worrisome phenomenon given the water scarcity problems faced by communities in most urban areas. To make things worse, illegal sand miners respect no boundary as they operate within land legally owned by some companies and individuals. In Retreat Farm, Harare South for example, companies such as Derbshire Quarry and Iyycot Quary have since been practising a cat and rat situation with these poachers that dig in their territories. Besides illegal extraction of sand, they also compete for same clients by establishing temporary reception points outside company premises to lure customers to buy their cheap and relatively poor quality sand. As this is not enough, in some areas sand poachers mine in reserved lands such as cemeteries- a situation that traditionally unethical.
Based on the fore going, it is crystal clear that sand poachers have become enemies of local authorities, community, environmental management authorities, private sector and even the ZRP. This therefore calls for urgent action by the government to implement both favourable and stringent measures towards illegal sand mining in Zimbabwe. Acknowledging the high unemployment rate in the country, this natural resource can be harnessed in harmony with these youths through allocation of sand mining land for youths, registered but not heavily taxed or with tight terms. On the other hand, the penalties against offenders particularly the illegal sand miners should be more stringent while enforcement should be more multi-stakeholder in nature to bring sanity in the community and protect our environment. If such measures are not urgently implemented, the question is; what will be the state and magnitude of impacts of these activities on our communities and the environment?
Ernest K Mando is an Educator, Researcher and Scholar with interests in geography, environmental policy and practice, environmental sociology, extractive sectors and health & safety. He is PhD student with University of South Africa. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, +263772244193 and various social networks as ernestkmando (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Skype, etc.) Find more of his work online.