By Bruce Ndlovu
Residents of Queens Park East in Bulawayo have expressed concern over the emergence of omakorokoza panning for gold on the suburbs’ outskirts, saying their presence is a threat to the peace and social fabric in the area.
The invasion of the suburb by omakorokoza is a continuation of a trend which has seen them move into areas within cities.
Instead of farms and remote areas, panners are moving onto the outskirts of city suburbs thought to be gold rich. When Sunday News visited the suburb last week, all seemed quiet and normal in the afternoon.
The only signs of life were a few women pulling down clothes from a washing line as a few clouds threatened to bring rain. At night, however, residents say the area, sandwiched between Mahatshula and Queens Park East is transformed into a hive of activity.
They fear that this could change the way of life in the suburb and with reported incidents of muggings and alcohol-fueled brawls, some say that this may already be happening.
“We have always heard about panners but we never thought we would find them on our doorstep,” a resident, Mr. Amon Dube told Sunday News.
“The sad thing is that we have always known the ills that gold panning comes with but now that it is happening here, we feel powerless to prevent it. We don’t want the violence associated with these people and their presence here will lead to other social ills which will lead to the death of the suburb. There is no place that has omakorokoza that I know of that has a great reputation.”
Another resident who spoke to Sunday News anonymously said they feared that the presence of gold panners could bring to an end the relative peace and low levels of crime in the suburb.
Of great concern is that most of the panners are not even from the area and are sometimes only known by their first names or nicknames, making them hard to track should they commit any crimes. This is also a continuation of a trend seen elsewhere around the country.
“We are seeing an increase in crime incidents and I blame that on them. If authorities don’t act soon, we will lose the suburb to those people most of whom are not from around here. These are strangers who can’t seem to live well with other people,” the resident said.
Ward Three caretaker Councillor Silas Chigora said he has been receiving complaints from residents about noise levels, particularly at night.
“I think what is happening there is very unfortunate. Firstly, we have had a lot of complaints from residents from Queens Park and Mhlangeni about the noise coming from that area. Every night they say there is a lot of noise that comes from there and it seems there is some kind of grinding that happens during the night,” he said.
Clr Chigora said the panners not only posed a danger to the environment but to themselves as well, as their panning could trigger land collapses that are potentially fatal. Mine collapses have increased since the onset of the rainy season around the country.
“There is also a lot of environmental degradation that is happening in the area. It is important to note that these illegal panners are also a danger to themselves.
“Imagine, right now with the kind of rain that we have received, they still go digging deep underground. We are likely to receive an unfortunate report in the coming days that maybe 10 have been buried under there,” he said.
Clr Chigora said while authorities had tried to police the area, this had proved futile as the panners always went back after a while. He said the only solution might be to seal the areas where the miners operated.
“The problem is that even when council sends rangers to chase these people away, somehow, they find themselves back there again. So, the council’s ranger department should make sure that they go there and enforce the eviction of those people.
“I think it would be helpful for the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to also go there and give their opinion on what must be done to bring sanity to that place again. Maybe those holes should be filled up. I hear that in the old days that place used to be a mine. Perhaps the only thing that EMA can do on their side is to restore the area there to what it was in its original state before mining took place,” he said. The Sunday News