CHIMANIMANI – Zimbabwe’s longest mountain range and iconic tourist attraction, Chimanimani mountains, has been overrun by illegal artisanal gold panners, say miffed local tourism players.
Waves of panners have been flocking into the mountains since the beginning of the COVID-19 national lockdown in March, posing serious threats to tourists, choking rivers with silt, scaring its delicate natural features and poaching game as well as ravaging its rare flora.
Tempe van de Ruit, who runs Chimanimani Farm House and whose father helped established the mountain range as a national park and after whose sister Tessa’s pool is named, said her family’s four-day hike of the only quartzite mountain range on the continent left her distressed.
She has since made a report to both Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and the police, who have since demanded a written request for them to intervene in the park.
“There has been a huge influx of panners since COVID-19 began. The gold panners’ paths to Skeleton pass are highways strewn with litter and all the trees near Redwall Cave and on the northern end of the Bundi plain have been hacked down for firewood,” Tempe said.
“Even the proteas have not been spared. There is a huge scar on Skeleton pass, exactly where the rangers stay and the Bundi river was dark brown. We could not swim in it, let alone drink it. There was another major excavation going on by Digby’s Falls. It’s the worst we have ever seen it,” Tempe added.
Manicaland provincial environmental manager Kingston Chitotombe said he would also add his voice to the request for police intervention.
“Panning has emerged as a major challenge in our communities. I Will write to the police requesting for intervention,” he said.
Chimanimani Tourist Association (CTA) chairperson Jane High said her organisation – which unearthed an illegal gold mining syndicate of the mountains involving senior parks officials, is sceptical about the organisation’s sincerity in fighting the vice.
ZimParks conducted an internal investigation that confirmed the allegations and led to the firing and transfer of some of its senior officials, including some board members.
“The ZimParks area and cluster managers have been invited to attend the CTA meeting Saturday,” High said.
“We continue to search for solutions. However, ZimParks and their “handlers” are relying in mining revenues so this destruction is just “part of the programme” until local communities wake up to the destruction of their assets… in terms of clean water, healthy soils and clean air. ZimParks can continue happily along…using livery stricken local people to dig and dig…,” a furious High charged.
With relations among key stakeholders in the management and promotion of the major tourism hub frosty its plunder continues to threaten Chimanimani’s appeal for to travellers.