By Nqobile Tshili
MORE than 200 gold panners have invaded Bulawayo’s Matsheumhlope suburb, operating about 20 metres from residential homes.
The illegal gold panners are said to have invaded the area about a month ago with the numbers growing by the day as the gold rush rumours spread.The Chronicle yesterday visited the area where it observed groups of panners busy digging.
As the news crew approached, the panners sounded alarm and dispersed.
The news crew eventually managed to engage them.“We’re forced into gold panning because of the economic situation. There are no jobs and this is our way of making a living. If we don’t fend for ourselves we might be forced to rob people. We mean no harm and we promise that we are not got to trespass into any residential property,” said one of the illegal panners.
“There isn’t as much gold in the area as we were initially made to believe but it’s enough for us to make ends meet.” The panners said they were coming from areas such as Filabusi, Lupane and Nkayi.
Ward 4 Councillor Silas Chigora said the illegal panners were a menace to residents and the community has reported their activities to the police.
“We’ve approximately 200 illegal gold panners conducting their activities in Matsheumhlope suburb. We have notified the police of their operations and they have raided them three to four times. Although the police raided them it is difficult to clear them from the area as they do their illicit dealings at night and vanish by day. Their relationship with the police has become a cat and mouse thing,” said Clr Chigora.
He said the operations of the illegal gold panners were threatening the structural integrity of residential homes.
“We are going to experience land degradation. I observed that the gold panners were digging pits of up to seven metres and that threatens residents’ houses. It won’t be surprising to hear residents complaining that their houses are cracking due to the operations of the gold diggers,” said Clr Chigora.
He said the presence of the panners may increase anti-social behaviour and posed a health hazard as there are no ablution facilities and it’s not clear where they stay.
Clr Chigora said already residents were complaining that they were losing property due to theft.
“Where there are almost 200 illegal gold panners it also means that there is an increase in the crime rate. Our fear is that stolen property may end up landing with these people. We’ve heard cases where residents have lost items such as solar lights, borehole pumps, chickens, picks and shovels and that area is already a ready market for thieves,” he said.
Acting Bulawayo police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Garikai Chipfunde said the police were closely monitoring the situation and would continue raiding the area to rid the suburb of illegal panners. The Chroncle