- The police in Zimbabwe today announced that they have arrested at least 19,239 people for their involvement in illegal mining and smuggling of precious minerals from the country. Hazardous artisanal mining has become one of the last possible revenue sources for Zimbabwe's many unemployed.
According to police spokesperson, Oliver Mandipaka, the majority of the illegal miners were caught in north-western province of Mashonaland West, where 9,186 were arrested during the November 2006 crackdown on miners.
As a gateway to Zambia and other mineral-rich countries, illegal miners find it easy to access Mashonaland West.
Mr Mandipaka also told journalists that 2,951 arrests were made in Matabeleland South Province, which borders South Africa and Botswana.
"We discovered that illegal miners sell gold to dealers who in turn smuggle the minerals out of the country," he said, revealing that the police have intercepted 3.4 kg of gold, 540,000 kg of gold ore and 5,211 pieces of diamond.
In recent times, illegal miners and dealers have been scrambling to get diamonds from Zimbabwe's eastern Manicaland Province. Dealers refused to sell minerals using the state-owned Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, which is a violation of the law.
Zimbabwe officials have been pointed accusing fingers at South Africa and Israel for being the two principal receivers of stolen minerals from their country.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai - who earlier led the Zimbabwean trade union movement - has strongly criticised the authorities' arrest of what he called "small-scale miners and cross-border traders." He sees it as another attack on Zimbabweans "trying to save their beleaguered investments and entrepreneurial operations."
Also human rights groups have protested the arrest of the small-scale miners after allegations of their mistreatment while in detention. According to 'Zim Online', at least three of the detained illegal gold miners have died after allegedly being forced by police to work for six days filling in trenches dug by other miners. The three reportedly died from hunger and exhaustion after being denied food.
During the last few years, illegal mining has become rampant in Zimbabwe as the many unemployed try to find ways to survive after being victimised by the economic crisis that developed after President Robert Mugabe embarked on his controversial land reforms in 2000.
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