By Debra Matabvu
A stamp mill pounds steel against rocks, producing echoes across the pit-riddled fields. Huge boulders, from beneath mother earth, are spread haphazardly alongside uprooted trees.
Middle-aged men covered in red soil dust crush rocks in deep pits in search of gold. Some haul the ore to the surface, in preparation for a possible life-changing sale.
It is evident the activities of these men are not choreographed, it is each man for himself. Both individual and gang operations have the same goal — extracting gold.
Located some 40km north-west of the capital Harare, Jumbo Mine is one of Metallon Corporation Limited’s four gold-producing mines.
However, it closed in 2015 due to mounting debts.
Over the past few months, the abandoned mine has attracted a huge number of illegal gold miners. The mine has a labyrinth of underground tunnels and gold seams, it is said.
In turn, the yellow glittering nuggets have detached the area from the rest of the country in terms of the medium of exchange.
Despite its dilapidated infrastructure and lack of development, the area is bursting with United States dollars.
Residents say when compared to the greenback, the local currency is in short supply there.
Various models of vehicles, fitted with local and foreign number plates, rumble up and down the dusty pathways day and night in search of gold and the United States dollar.
For any commodity that is sold at Jumbo Mine, prices are normally charged in United States dollars. Vendors and ladies of the night are said to be making a killing.
“The hive of activity in this area is a testament of the economic activities here,” a resident only identified as Gilbert told The Sunday Mail Society during a recent visit to the mine.
“Business is booming in this area, vendors come from far away places to sell basic commodities such as water, bread and even ball lollipops.”
Conservative estimates by our team and small business operators in the area put the number of people that are currently living and panning gold at Jumbo Mine at around 5 000.
To confirm the level of activity taking place at the defunct mine, it takes a minimum of two hours to catch a lift from Harare to Bindura these days.
What is the reason behind such a delay?
Well, almost every public transport vehicle going that direction is now plying the Harare-Jumbo Mine route.
“Jumbo Mine yabhadhara (Jumbo Mine is giving us brisk business). People are coming from every corner of this country to do business here. Not everyone is a miner, some sell different wares while others are sex workers.
“The only danger is that some of them are not genuine customers. It’s risky dealing with them but it’s a risk worth taking because our families have to eat and the money is good,” said a pirate taxi operator, who only identified himself as Kuda.
However, there is a trail of corruption, terror and violence beneath the gold riches.
On many occasions, security personnel in the area have been called to quell clashes between the illegal gold panners.
“I came here from Gokwe in search of gold,” Given Moyo, an illegal miner, told this publication. “Ever since I became a gold miner, I thought I had become brave. Mudslides or collapsing earth do not deter me from gold mining, but now with the violence, I have every reason to fear for my life.
“The MaShurugwi or Mabhudhi gangs are terrorising and robbing us of our gold.”
Former mine authorities and security are reportedly charging US$15 per head to allow the illegal gold miners into the mine shafts during the night.
lt is said they rake up to US$1 500 per night through the practice.
According to Given, most of the violent activities often play out underground.
“The surprising thing is that before entering the mine, we are searched for weapons by the security or mine authority,” he said.
“The least number of MaShurugwi that can enter a mine shaft is 50. The number is normally huge so as to outnumber us. They take away our torches, food and gold. If you do not have any gold, they will enslave you to work for them, you will give up all the gold you would have worked for.
“They can keep you underground for up to four days. If you are lucky they will only beat you up. However, most of our colleagues are not so lucky and do not survive the beating.
“Most of these cases are not reported to the police,” said Given,who has since given up forays into the main shaft. Most fearful miners, like Given, have opted to dig up pits outside the mine. However, the pits are a stone’s throw away from the residential area.
“We are always pleading with these miners to stop their activities near our homes, but they tell us off. Some even say we should vacate or risk having the houses collapse on us,” said one resident who elected to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation.
Last month, residents in Glendale, near Mazowe, clashed with illegal gold miners, leaving a trail of destruction.
Minister of State for Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs Cecilia Mavhunga said Government is working on re-opening the mine to eliminate the chaos.
“The situation at Jumbo Mine is really getting out control,” she said.
“Although the mine was closed, there was a gold rush and illegal miners have a way of getting into the mine. The police on the ground have been working to control the situation and I was there recently with the Minister of Mines and Mining Development to find a lasting solution on the issue.
“Incidents of violence and deaths are happening inside the shafts. We are working on re-opening the mine, some former mine employees are still based at that mine.”
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the problems at Jumbo Mine and other mining communities countrywide.
“We urge communities to resolve their differences amicably,” he said in a terse response. Despite the appeal, Jumbo Mine continues to be a place of terror. The Sunday Mail