Zimbabwe has a long history of gold production stretching back many centuries and gold is by any estimate a mineral with the longest mining history of the country. The gold industry is characterised by large greenstone belts which support many small mines which are privately owned. A United Nations working paper of 1995, on gold mining in Zimbabwe, estimates over 5000 small scale gold mines. This number has increased significantly since this last study and an estimate of deposits will definitely be in excess of 10 000. The economic stagnation of the last decade has seen development efforts in the area of small scale gold mining collapse, and has further fragmented private ownership and distribution of small claim owners.
A large number of these mines have considerable potential, but are seen by the current claim holders as an unattractive investments because of the considerable capital needed. Technology does not present a real constraint; the necessary equipment and skills are available locally; and there are no legal obstacles. The current Zimbabwe mining law is probably the simplest in Africa for the acquisition of full, transferable mineral title. Rather it is the shortage of risk capital for equipment purchase and exploration, and entrepreneurial skills that inhibit the development of small-scale mining.
The traditional approach to mining of gold claims was for the title holder to prospect and peg his claims, then raise sufficient capital for the purchase of the mining equipment. If capital is hard to come by, claim holders often revert to manual methods only mining the richest veins and obtaining a very low recovery. Once the easy-to-extract gold resource close to the surface is exhausted, the claim is abandoned and in cases where this is not so, the claim becomes highly dangerous for any further workings due to hazards of the numerous adits and tunnels haphazardly chasing the vein.
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