Miners in areas like Kwekwe and Kadoma say that they still fear for their lives from machete wielding gangs in the event they strike gold on their claims, a public interest environmental law organisation has revealed.
In a statement, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) said instead of using machetes, some are now even using guns and raiding homes of gold miners or mine owners.
“The Machete gangs are there lurking and ready to pounce and take away the hard-earned ore/gold. The sad thing is even when they report to the police, the perpetrators are released an hour later.
“The law enforcement agents seem to be working in syndicates with the gangs or criminals while in some areas the police are ill-prepared or may not even have transport or manpower to deal with the violence or respond to reported cases.
“Some police even fear intervention including reaching out to such hotspot areas in Kwekwe. In 2021, while the incidents and conflicts in the ASM are not as fatal as before, the tactics used by the gangs and criminals have changed and the machete gangs still torment the miners,” reads the statement.
According to ZELA, a number of cases have so far been reported in places like Sanyati, Kwekwe, Zvishavane and Gwanda among others.
“In Sanyati, there was a gold rush recently, when the gangs heard of it, they violently displaced everyone and took over the gold mining site. In Mutimutema in Silobela, a group of people came in the middle of the night with guns, demanding for gold or cash.
“In Kwekwe, Mbizo 21 a gang that calls itself Mabhudhi, came upon a registered claim that had started receiving samples, they mined on the claim for four consecutive days without giving the owner anything.
“In Gwanda cases of armed gangs (with guns) who raided homes and shops for gold and money were recorded.
“In Mapanzure area in Zvishavane, chrome ore theft has become the order of the day as ‘mabhuru’ (a term the machete gang is referred to) forcefully and violently takes away chrome ores.
“In Nyamandlovu, at a mine along the Gwayi river, villagers were injured in a gold rush that resulted in a clash with Makorokoza,” reads part of the statement.
The cases of machete gangs and criminals in the gold sector dents investor confidence as many international companies and investors are embracing responsible sourcing and mining practices and avoiding areas affected by conflict or high-risk areas. If the gangs are not dealt with Zimbabwean gold might be tainted as “blood gold”.
As COVID-19 left many people and in particular the youths jobless, the numbers of people going into mining will increase. If the gangs are not deterred or the situation not managed, another round and upsurge of violence and crimes may occur. This risk and vulnerability is real and should be looked at closely.
The covid-19 Pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 have left many people jobless and has wrecked different sources of livelihoods. However, when the Government declared mining as an essential service and miners were allowed to operate, many joined the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, while others joined the agricultural sector which was also declared as an essential service. Criminals and opportunists also joined the sector.
Meanwhile, ZELA, recommended that a Joint Mines and Defence Committee investigation on hotspot areas of conflict will be critical to identify the causes, nature, and new forms of conflict and come up with recommendations for Government to proactively address the causes of conflicts or address any simmering conflicts. Even though cases of killings have significantly declined the situation might be inflamed again at any time.