By Nqobile Tshili and Freedom Mupanedemo
Gold panners have unleashed a reign of terror in Malungwane Village in Umzingwane District, Matabeleland South attacking villagers with axes, machetes and knobkerries.
The development has seen the community members sleeping in maize fields fearing being attacked at their homes while asleep.
The gold panners referred to as AmaNkayi as they are said to be coming from Nkayi district, attacking villagers even during the day.
Last Saturday, the group is said to have set base in the nearby mountain from where it is launching forays into the village.
A Chronicle news crew on Thursday visited the village which is about 20km from Esigodini where the community narrated their terror stories.
So timid were the community members that only the village head Mr Zacchaeus Mlalazi, agreed to speak on record.
Upon arrival at the village at about 2pm, the news crew spoke to a woman who was at her homestead but as the crew started talking about the gold panners issue, she politely asked the team to go and talk to the men in the village, directing reporters where to go.
Following her instruction, the news crew visited another homestead where it found a male occupant who admitted that they indeed were having problems with illegal gold panners but also declined to comment about the issue.
He referred the news crew to the area’s village head who was not at home.
The news crew proceeded to a fourth homestead and luckily its occupants although declining to be identified opened up on the harrowing experiences at the hands of the illegal gold miners.
They said some of the villagers are now forced to sleep in the maize fields fearing being raided by the gold panners.
“We have a serious problem; I don’t want to lie to you, I understand when people say they don’t want to speak about it but that is the situation we have here. It’s a long standing problem, we are constantly being brutalised by a group of illegal gold panners that live in that mountain (showing the news crew the mountain). They come here armed with knives, machetes, knobkerries and axes or any dangerous weapon you can think of. They can walk in and just start beating up people for no reason. This happens especially when they have altercations in the gold belt,” said the villager.
He said last Saturday three community members were attacked with axes by the illegal gold panners.
The villager said the gang came on the same day and also raided a local tuck-shop getting away with US$45 and R50.
“About a month ago they attacked someone and he fell unconscious in my yard. He was awakened by a light drizzle. The incidents are just countless. We have called the police but they never come. It’s as if we are a neglected community but it will be better if you talk to our village head, he knows all our cries and he will explain better. We don’t know if the police want to come on the ground when there is a body,” he said.
The news crew drove to the village head’s mine claim several kilometres from the village where the old man said he was distressed with the attacks happening to his people.
He said the community has lost faith with the law enforcement agents.
“We have tried to engage the police countless times but not even once have they responded to reports of attacks by these gangs.
“Our boys had to take matters into their hands a few days back and they fought back and captured two of the gang members. I personally phoned Esigodini police to come and take away the criminals but they said they had no car and asked us to bring the criminals to the police station. Our boys who arrested the gang members were part of the team that escorted them to the police station but things took a strange turn at the police station as our boys were arrested for assaulting them. They were charged for assault. The police officers even said the weapons that we brought as evidence belonged to our boys,” said Mr Mlalazi.
He said what is worrying the community is that some cops have mining interests with some of the illegal miners also working for them.
Mr Mlalazi said some police officers own metal detectors used by the illegal miners.
“It therefore does not really surprise us that police seem to be disinterested in responding to crime in our village. So many villagers have had a near-death encounter with these illegal miners. These people have been living in the mountains for years and nothing has been done to stop the attacks,” said Mr Mlalazi.
Matabeleland South police spokesperson Inspector Loveness Mangena said she had not received details about the matter hence she could not be drawn to comment about it.
Zanu-PF Umzingwane legislator Brigadier General (Retired) Levi Mayihlome said while he is not aware of the attacks on villagers in Malungwane and the nearby Bayethe villages.
Commenting on the allegations that police were not responding to villagers’ call for hel, Cde Mayihlome said it will not be fair to lay all the blame on the police as they are resource constrained and do not have cars that are necessary in responding to crime incidents.
“I might not have the details about the case you are referring to but what I know is that the area has a lot of illegal gold panners who are a problem. Also, police do not have resources, they don’t have cars to respond to crime reports. Imagine police have to travel about 80km to respond to a crime scene. So, we have decided to donate a car to the police so that they can effectively respond to crime reports in the constituency,” he said.
Meanwhile, Artisanal miners are reportedly wreaking havoc in Mahindi Village under chief Mataruse in Mberengwa, digging in the fields, cemeteries and near homesteads following a gold rush in the area.
Villagers said they were now living in fear of the illegal miners whose activities have damaged nearby houses and other structures.
The villagers said several houses have since developed some cracks due to blasting by the illegal miners.
Village heads and some community leaders have also reportedly joined the gold rush.
Chief Mataruse confirmed the gold rush in the area.
The chief said he had tasked the local village head, Mr Manyadza Shumba to handle the matter.
Mr Shumba confirmed that there is mining activities in his village.
He said they were working on regularising the mining activities.
“It’s a blessing that gold was discovered in my area and it will help the community a lot. Yesterday we were in Gweru at the Mines and Mining Development Ministry, regularising the mining activities in the area and we are working on processing the papers so that we conduct lawful and proper mining,” he said.
Mr Shumba said he approached the police to stop the illegal mining activities.
“There was violence with people attacking each other using machetes so police intervened and there is order now. We are now working on regularising the mining activities which will involve the whole community,” he said.
Midlands provincial mining engineer, Mr Tariro Ndlovu was not available for a comment yesterday.
A villager said they were now living in fear of violent illegal miners.
“We are now living in fear of these miners because of their violent nature, there is nothing we can do even if they set their explosives just beneath our houses, it’s difficult to reprimand them. It seems they are determined to displace everyone here because even the local village heads who should be our voice have joined the gold rush and are being given money by the artisanal miners,” said one of the villagers, Mr Saxon Dube.
He said they have since approached the office of the provincial mining engineer in an effort to find a lasting solution after several other officials failed to assist them.
“There is now a group of influential people which is working with the local village head and have named them Budiriro Syndicate. They are the ones who give the artisanal miners the greenlight to mine and these illegal miners will in turn pay a fee to this syndicate, its chaotic, he said.
Another villager, Mrs Caroline Manjiche said her house developed a huge crack after it gave in to some blasting which was taking place in the area.
She said their livestock was also being trapped in huge pits left open by the artisanal miners as they search for the precious mineral.
“We urgently call for action from the powers that be so that these illegal mining activities are stopped. They are digging up our fields, our homes are no longer safe and our livestock is under threat,” she said. The Chronicle