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Legacies of a nationwide crackdown in Zimbabwe: Operation Chikorokoza Chapera in gold mining communities*

  • Samuel J. Spiegel (a1)

Although conflict in Zimbabwe's diamond mining sector has recently received much international scrutiny, very little research has examined conflict in Zimbabwe's gold mining sector. This article analyses how a nationwide crackdown called Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (‘No More Illegal Mining’) affected – and ‘disciplined’ – livelihoods in profound ways in both licensed and unlicensed gold mining regions. Drawing on interviews conducted between 2006 and 2013 with artisanal miners in the Insiza, Umzingwani and Kadoma areas as well as miners who crossed the border to Mozambique, the study reveals how a highly politicised crackdown led to uneven consequences. The analysis highlights both structural and physical violence, with more than 25,000 miners and traders arrested between 2006 and 2009 and more than 9,000 still imprisoned in 2013. Situating the crackdown within evolving political and economic interests, the study contributes to an understanding of how simplified discourses on ‘eradicating illegal mining’ mislead and mask power dynamics, while policing activities transform patterns of resource control. The study also emphasises that conceptualisations of the crackdown's legacy should carefully consider the agency of artisanal miners' associations, which, in some cases, have been actively seeking to resist coercive policies and rebuild livelihoods in the aftermath of Operation Chikorokoza Chapera.

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This research was conducted with support from the Cambridge University Commonwealth Trust, the Trudeau Foundation and the University of Edinburgh. The author expresses gratitude to all the people who participated in interviews, particularly artisanal miners who generously shared their time and offered insights. The author also thanks the many academics who provided helpful comments on this work.

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