By Victor Maphosa in MAZOWE and Farirai Machivenyika in HARARE
As armed detachments of the Police Support Unit are flung into the battle to crush machete gangs, Parliament has launched an investigation to unearth the origins of the gangs, how they operate, their impact and how they can be tamed by police action and legal changes.
Machete gangs’ have wreaked havoc at gold mining sites across the country, causing deaths and injuries and threatening the entire gold mining industry, and have been moving into other violent crime in towns, cities and rural business centres.
While police deploy the muscle to crush the gangs, rounding up one major gang in Mazowe yesterday, legislators want longer-term solutions including the formalisation of the small-scale gold sectors and legal changes to bring in tougher penalties for those who operate outside the law.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development held an emergency meeting yesterday and decided on the probe with the preliminary list of those to be summoned to give evidence and advice including the Ministers of Mines and Mining Development (Winston Chitando), Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage (Kazembe Kazembe), Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs (Ziyambi Ziyambi), Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga and Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi.
Others expected to appear before the same committee include media executives and editors, traditional chiefs, civil society organisations, the Zimbabwe Miners Federation and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
Yesterday, enhanced police operations scored a major success when the gang that has been occupying Jumbo Mine in Mazowe was rounded up with its explosives and equipment and the police promised more of these well-manned raids on gangs with armed detachments of the Police Support Unit deployed across Zimbabwe to back operations at provincial and district level against machete gangs.
In yesterday’s joint operation, 14 illegal miners were arrested at Jumbo Mine, with 11 machetes seized along with 423 sticks of explosives, four rows of copper wire and nine hammer mills.
The gang is believed to be one of those involved in the spate of increasingly violent criminal activities which rocked Mashonaland Central Province recently.
Police operations involve the Criminal Investigations Department, especially to identify and target the gangs, with adequate uniformed and support unit officers moving in to effect the arrests.
Police Support Unit officers have intensive weapons training and suitable equipment to back local police facing armed criminals.
Speaking to The Herald after the raid at Jumbo Mine yesterday, Officer Commanding Police Support Unit, Assistant Commissioner Bazibi Dube, said his units had been deployed in all the areas where criminal activities associated with illegal extraction of gold were occurring.
“As Police Support Unit, we are here in full support of Mashonaland Central Province officers in the fight against criminality by the machete wielding gang that has terrorised our localities, especially in the mining areas,” he said.
Machetes and explosives recovered from Suspected Machete wielding gang at Jumbo Mine in Mazowe yesterday.-Pictures: Innocent Makawa
“The Support Unit is deployed fully across the country to curb this menace and may I make this very clear that as a unit we will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that these blood thirsty criminals, who have taken it upon themselves to terrorise members of the public using machetes, are brought to book.
“We are aware that not more than a week ago a police officer was murdered using these machetes. I want to give a stern warning to would-be criminals that as Support Unit, we will not hesitate to bring them to book and justice.
“As we speak, we have deployed to all areas where these criminal activities are occurring and we will deal with all the criminals without fear or favour.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the operation, officer commanding Mashonaland Central Province Assistant Commissioner Antony Mangezi assured the province that all criminals terrorising the public will be brought to book.
He said police will ensure there was peace and order in the province.
“As police in Mashonaland Central, we are in full force to deal with criminal issues in line with our mandate of maintaining order and tranquillity,” said Asst Comm Mangezi.
“We have deployed all our resources in the whole province. All machete carrying gangs will be arrested. We will deal with all illegalities to ensure that the mining industry is free from criminal activities. We want to assure the public that as police we will do all that we can to bring peace, all criminals are warned that their days are numbered.”
While police intensified operations against the gangs, Parliamentary Portfolio Committee chairperson Edmond Mukaratigwa told a media conference that his committee wants to find out how the gangs came into being and how their activities had impacted on the gold sector and crime.
“We acknowledge the efforts by different Government departments and the Committee has keenly discussed this issue today and resolved to conduct an inquiry into the matter in order to identify and trace the foundation and development of the gold panning gangs; to find out the impact by them on gold production in light of the $12 billion target set for the mining industry by 2023; to establish what Government is doing to end the perpetuity of the terrorism against gold producers by the gold panning gangs,” he said.
“The committee further resolved that Government kick-starts legislative procedures to allow for stiffer penalties with regards to such perpetrators as was done in the case of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act regarding the vandalism of railway and electrical material among others.”
Mukaratigwa said the committee resolved to engage the Government to expedite the formalisation of artisanal miners to ensure accountability of their activities.
It was necessary to identify the challenges being faced by Government and stakeholders in quelling challenges bedevilling the gold sector and society at large and to compile and present a comprehensive report to Parliament with findings and recommendations, he said.
Mukaratigwa said the committee urged the Government intensify efforts to stamp out the gangs permanently and increase police presence in known hotspots.
He said it was their duty as representatives of the people to act against the lawlessness being perpetuated by the gangs.
“The committee is perplexed by the rampant killings going on in the mining sector and as elected representatives of the people, Parliament will not remain silent on the issue,” said Mukaratigwa.
“Within its mandate, Parliament and Government shall work to ensure that punitive measures are put in place, as it affects our major resource and reduces the market space by tainting of our minerals,” Mukaratigwa said.
“They are a danger to society, taking into consideration the impact these gold panning gangs have on the social, cultural and economic spheres of Zimbabwe. The committee, through its constitutional obligation, is reaffirming fully its participation against the illegal activities being carried out by the gold panning gangs.”
Zimbabwe had always been a civilised republic regulated by laws enacted by Parliament and unruly elements needed to be dealt with, said Mukaratigwa.
The gangs murdered Constable Wonder Hokoyo in Battlefields just before New Year, while a gold buyer, Marko Dube, was killed in Mvuma a few days later.
Police have since arrested a number of people belonging to the machete gangs in Kadoma, Mt Darwin, Mazowe and Gweru. The Herald