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SarWatch Writer
Press Release: The Status of Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining in Nathenje, Malawi

Recently Malawi experienced a gold rush in Makanjira area within the Unga and Nathenje River catchments in Mazengera and Chimutu Traditional Authorities.  Gold has been illegally extracted since 2017.  This report provides for the first time an overview of what is happening in Artisanal gold mining in Malawi and the impact the activity has on local and national economies.

The mining sector in Malawi is dominated by limestone quarrying, coal mining, uranium, and gemstone. The country’s mining sector accounts for about one per cent of the country’s GDP despite having several minerals with economic potential. In his 2020 State of the Nation Address, Malawi’s president, Lazarus Chakwera, indicated that the country loses approximately US$85 million to illegally mined gold, mainly sold in the Middle Eastern countries

This report shows that Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) in Malawi contributes significantly to local livelihoods. For local people, gold has come as a blessing. They claim ASM-gold exploitation has had positive socioeconomic impacts on their livelihoods. Some claim they have built houses with proceeds from gold and paid school fees. According to the report’s authors, “some have built houses with iron sheets, installed solar electricity, purchased motorcycles and bicycles, and purchased agricultural inputs and livestock. A few have invested their mining returns into other small-scale businesses such as tea rooms, restaurants, buying and selling grain, or loan-shark businesses.”

The report also shows that ASM is responsible for considerable environmental destruction. Over 40 000 Malawians are engaged in artisanal mining with women making up a significant number of the miners. Most artisanal miners are informal, and it is difficult to obtain statistics on their production and sales.  According to the report, “Men dominate the ASGM operations in the area, leaving women employed as part-time labours who are involved in ferrying water, fetching firewood, cooking, transporting soils for processing, and actual excavation including taking care and handling of tools.”

The gold rush also has had negative impacts, especially on children. Evidence indicates the presence of children in mines, infringing on children’s rights and increasing their exposure to health risks. Gift Richard Maloya one of the authors of the report says Some parents and guardians send their children, especially girls to mining sites to sell small items and to undertake piece work known as ‘Ganyu’, thereby exposing them to intensive child labour practices and sexual exploitation.”

ASM in Malawi represents the same characteristics we have seen in other countries- child labour, environmental degradation, illicit trade controlled by a foreign cartel. Most of the illegal buyers are from Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia while nationals of China, Nigeria and local nationals of Indian origin operate as silent middle-men with unregulated market prices.

This report covers the status quo and makes recommendations in order to improve the governance of the ASM in Malawi including the formalisation of the sector. It is SARW’s hope that the outcomes of this study will open up a conversation in Malawi to find solution to the ASM sector and position it as a key contributor to the local and national economies.

For enquiries contact:

Masutane Modjadji: +27833078355

Email: masutanem@sarwatch.org

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