Poverty stinks in former mining towns

Former miners affected by the closure of Mhangura copper mine in 2000 are living in abject poverty, with some failing to send their children to school. Former miners told The Zimbabwean the only activity left for them is farming.

Banks, shops and other industries have relocated or simply shut down. “We no longer have decent livelihoods, we are struggling to send our children to school and we only get our money yearly,” said Alfred Moyo, who has lived in the town for more than five decades.

Just a few kilometers away, the formerly booming mining town of Alaska is on the verge of becoming a ruin. Virtually no activity takes place except children playing in the dongas where their fathers used to toil to bring food on the table.

“My life depended heavily on mining, I have no other technical expertise and farming is not in my blood, so I have resigned to fate. Maybe one day the mines will be reopened and we will get employed again,” said Hilary Phiri.

Alaska and Mhangura mines were shut down in 2000 after more than four decades of operation.

Although some of the former workers, mostly of Mozambican and Malawian origin, were given compensation including houses and monetary severance packages, the majority of them now live miserable lives because inflation eroded the value of their packages.

Some have resorted to working on nearby commercial farms and resettlement areas, while others have become highway “fish mongers”, always on the run from the police, because their activities are considered illegal.

Sherpard Batapanzi, chairman of Alaska Youth Corner, a peer education initiative, said: “We really have no future here and most of our young people are going to the big towns and surviving by dubious means.”

The country is littered with ghost towns that were once prosperous mining communities – Kamativi, Shamrock and Gaths Mine in Mashave and Mvuma join the list of deserted mines.

A recent Environmental Management Agency (EMA) report said 60,000 families were still living in abandoned mine compounds under squalid conditions. The Agency lashed out at mining giants for neglecting mines once they had exhausted mineral extraction.

Meanwhile the ERMA reports that thousands of mine workers and their families living downstream of chrome washing plants are in danger of contracting diseases as chemicals used for washing chromite were finding their way into their sources of water. Chrome output is expected to rise to 300,000 tonnes per annum by 2015, if the sector secures the $500 million it requires for recapitalisation.

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