Civil society organisations have rapped President Emmerson Mnangagwa for officiating at a State House ceremony where he presented the Best Gold Buyer award for 2021 to a controversial gold dealer, Pedzisai Sakupwanya.
They accused the president of endorsing impunity in the gold mining sector.
Commonly known as Scott, Sakupwanya received the award last Tuesday for delivering 7.8 tonnes of gold to Fidelity Printers through his company, Better Brands Jewellery (BBJ).
The delivery, which was enabled by buying from artisanal miners, was a steep jump from the 800kg that BBJ achieved in 2020.
President Mnangagwa was the guest of honour and his deputy, Constantino Guvheya Chiwenga, as well as Mines minister, Winston Chitando attended the ceremony together with numerous captains of industry.
Sakupwanya won as a ruling Zanu PF council candidate in ward 21 in Mabvuku, Harare, where he grew up, during the March 26 by-elections.
In an interview with Grazers News, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD) director, James Mupfumi, said Sakupwanya’s history in gold mining must have been taken into account.
“The role of government is to balance business and human rights. The most saddening reality is that the government is allowing scorched earth tactics in mineral extraction and is disregarding environmental rights and community development,” he said.
Sakupwanya’s Better Brands Mining Company was caught in a storm at the Redwing Mine in Penhalonga, Manicaland province, for widespread human and environmental rights violations.
As reported by Grazers News last year, the company caused extensive damage to the environment, digging up pits for gold ore and setting up illegal processing mills that used cyanide and mercury, which is now banned in Zimbabwe.
According to CRD, there were about 5,000 pits that BBJ mine workers dug up but failed to reclaim, posing a hazard to both animals and residents.
On February 5 February 2022, workers at Redwing mine wrote to the company’s legal advisor, Rynos Gumbo, and judicial manager, Knowledge Hofisi, requesting that a tributary agreement given to Better Brands be cancelled.
Phanuel Mukadiwei, the chairperson of the Associated Mine Workers Union (AMWU) and Friday Sokisi signed the letter on behalf of the Redwing employees.
“The awarding of the tribute agreement to Betterbrands Mining Company was done without consultation and subsequent approval of the creditors committee. It flies in the face of the corporate rescue plan which was voted for on the creditors meeting of September 9 2021.
“In view of the above, we hereby instruct you to…cancel the current agreement signed between him (Hofisi) and Betterbrands Mining Company immediately,” read part of the letter.
Madondo was kicked out as the judicial manager and repalced by Hofisi after double-awarding gold mining licences to Probadek Investments and Better Brands. He was subsequently arrested and his case is still at the courts.
Redwing Mining Company employees expected Sakupwanya to be arrested together with Hofisi, but that did not happen.
There is a long-held suspicion that Sakupwanya is a Mnangagwa family proxy.
He has been frequently seen in the company of the president’s sons.
The Mnangagwas operate a gold mill at their Precabe farm just outside Kwekwe, the president’s home city.
The first lady, Auxillia, was last year implicated in a gold smuggling attempt by Henrietta Rushwaya, who is also considered to be close to the Mnangagwas.
However, George Charamba, the presidential spokesperson dismissed the claim that Sakupwanya was a runner for the first family in an earlier interview for a story commissioned by Information for Development Trust (IDT)—a not-for-profit organisation that supports investigative journalists in southern Africa to probe bad governance and public sector corruption.
Farai Maguwu, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) director, described the Sakupwanya award as “shameful”.
“It is a big shame that such a man who has staged a one-man environmental Armageddon in Penhalonga is being honoured by the head of state and government,” he said.
“What a message does this send to society? Will anyone take the clean-up campaign (against dirty gold) seriously when the president is honouring an environmental hangman with a medal,” added Maguwu.
Efforts to get comments from Sakupwanya and the presidency did not succeed.