Small mining outfits produced 3,163 tons of gold in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared with 2,958 tons produced by large mining operations, according to data provided to GPJ by Fidelity Printers and Refiners, the country's sole formal gold buyer.
In total, large companies produced 11,759 tons last year and small operations produced 9,680 tons. The total output fell short 24 tons short of the target set by the government at the start of 2016, but small-scale miners say their performance through the year indicates that they deserve more recognition and support.
"We are the new economy drivers and employment creators, but government often turns a blind eye on this reality, stepping on the new golden goose, us, small-scale miners," says John Chinonzwa, the national treasurer-general for the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, an umbrella group for small-scale miners.
Small-scale mines control up to 65 percent of active gold deposits in the country, according to the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF). An estimated 1 million people earn a direct livelihood in the artisanal, small-scale mining industry, according to research by Pact, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit.
Legislation that regulates mining does not differentiate small operations from large ones, obligating small-scale miners to pay the same fees if they want to operate legally.
But many small-scale miners and their advocates say proposed legislation could level the playing field and ultimately help them produce even more.
The Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, which was first introduced in 2015, might ultimately include guidance for creating a two-tier system to better accommodate smaller mining operations.
Employees work at Penhalonga Valley Investments Mill in Harare, Zimbabwe. A proposed law could provide small-scale gold miners with more government support.
Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ Zimbabwe
"Gold deliveries sold through formal channels have increased over the years, but the process of formalization also needs to be expedited so that all miners can sell gold to Fidelity Printers," Chinonzwa says.
Right now, gold panners and others who are not registered and licensed with the Ministry of Mines can't sell what they produce to Fidelity Printers. People who work illegally in the industry often do so because of high licensing fees and other costs.
Chinonzwa's education ended at grade five, but the 65-year-old learned the mining business in nine years at Metallon Gold subsidiary Redwing Mine in Penhalonga.
He now runs his mine and mill with his three sons. They employ 36 people at the mill and 101 people at the mine on Muzuri Farm in Penhalonga. Chinonzwa has purchased one modern round mill to add to the two archaic ball mills he already had, but he says that access to loans at reasonable rates would help him buy more and improve his productivity, as well as provide milling services to other local miners.
Modern round mills cost $18,000, but are only obtainable in Bulawayo, while crushers cost $9,000, he says.
Chinonzwa says his operation produces, on average, 1.2 kilograms (about 2.6 pounds) of gold per month.
"We are now demanding to be heard," Chinonzwa says. "We have great potential to contribute more, immensely, towards the fiscus."
Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.