Fighting the machete war: A legal minefield

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WHILE the now notorious machete gangs, popularly known as maShurugwi, have wreaked havoc in mining towns, leaving a trail of destruction, the government is in a dilemma on how to effectively deal with their callous acts without flouting the country’s supreme law. Hundreds of people have so far been arrested across the country for using dangerous weapons, including machetes, in several mining towns. The mining towns have been turned into war zones by the gangs, who are terrorising villagers and other groups of artisanal miners in turf and mineral grab wars. With their roots in the Midlands area, where they have left many families in tears, the machete gangs have spread across the country, with Mashonaland and Manicaland provinces that are rich in gold and diamonds, being the major hotspots. However, several suggestions have been put across to deal with the machete gangs, including adopting a shoot-to-kill policy, deploying the army and denying the suspects bail. This has posed a huge dilemma for the government, as employing any of these tactics will be against the country’s supreme law. Prominent Harare lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara told the Daily News on Sunday that these tactics may be retrogressive if employed without proper care. “It’s retrogressive from a legal and human rights point of view. It is not proper for law enforcement agents and judicial officers to employ a blanket view because the Constitution provides that bail is a right unless there are compelling reasons. That is the law of the land that cannot be circumvented by any legal officer,” Bhatasara said. He said there would be need for compelling reasons for one to be denied bail, which may include the fact that the suspect has previous convictions, resisted arrest or
fought back when he was apprehended. Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi recently said the government was mulling a shootto-kill policy against the miners, while Zanu PF youths also called for life imprisonment for those convicted in the machete murders, further calling for prosecutors to oppose bail. “… machete wielding gangs are a worse societal evil compared to even cattle rustling and as such should carry severe deterrent sentences like life imprisonment and lengthy sentences. We pray in this regard that judicial officers may give the maximum possible sentence for all individuals convicted of crimes involving machetes,” the youth league said in a statement. However, Bhatasara, said to ensure fairness, there was need for the police to properly investigate cases to avoid simply rounding up people who would eventually be freed by the courts. “The police doesn’t have to round up people in a bar because that will not help as they will eventually be freed. People will then begin to make additions and subtractions and say the government may be involved. “The police cannot also employ a shoot-to-kill approach, as this will take us back to the dark age. There are standard procedures when the law enforcement agents have to use lethal force. They cannot round up unarmed people in a bar and employ the shoot-to-kill approach,” he said. Over the last few years, death has stalked mining areas like war would devour its own, with indications the situation might be getting out of hand. The series of murders have left citizens and government officials shellshocked. While government has declared war on the machete gangs, amid reports they have so far killed over 100 people, the killings cont i n u e to rise, w i t h t h e culp r i t s getting m o r e daring by each
day. Faced with a similar problem, the government was in 2006 forced to deploy the military in the Chiadzwa and Marange diamond fields in Manicaland Province to curb a wave of illegal panning in the area, where other crimes such as murder also became rampant. As the death toll continues to rise, the parliamentary portfolio committee on Mines and Mining Development recently resolved to launch a probe into the origins and operations of the machete-wielding gangs. Speaking after an urgent meeting, committee chairperson Edmond Mukaratigwa said various stakeholders would be invited to try and get to the bottom of the problem. “In particular, the committee considered the gold mining gangs, commonly known as terrorists operating under the moniker
maShurugwi. They are a danger to the mining industry, taking into consideration the impact they have on the social, cultural and economic spheres of Zimbabwe,” Mukaratigwa said. After the inquiry that would see the holding of public meetings in several mining towns to gather evidence, the committee will produce and present a comprehensive report to Parliament, while also making recommendations for action. From targeting ordinary citizens, the daring machete gangs recently bludgeoned a police officer to death, while one of his colleagues was seriously injured in an attack at Good Hope Mine in Kadoma. Constable Wonder Hokoyo, 27, fell victim to the machete killers on December 28, 2019. His colleague, Constable Kamhuka, is still fighting for his life at Kadoma General Hospital. The two men were among four officers guarding the mine, armed with FN rifles, but were overpowered by the gold panners who were armed with axes, logs and machetes. Last week, the police launched operation No Machete Wielding Gangs and Chikorokoza Ngachipere, resulting in the arrest of over 900 people in Mazowe and Shamva, including illegal miners and vendors. As the debate rages on, on the power behind these machete gangs, several politicians and civil society groups have condemned the ruthless attacks, which leaders seemingly ignored. In its December 2019 report, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) condemned the brutal acts. “The brazen lawlessness of machete wielding artisanal mining gangs heightened as one police officer was seriously injured and another murdered by a gang popularly known as ‘Team Barca’ armed with machetes, logs, axes and catapults; in the course of carrying out their duties. This occurred on December 28, 2019
at Good Hope Mine in Muzvezve Constituency in Battlefields. The mine is owned by the constituency legislator who authorised Zanu PF youths in the constituency to undertake mining activities in a youth empowerment programme,” ZPP said. ZPP said the unrelenting lawlessness by these gangs made it impossible for citizens to enjoy the security guaranteed by the Constitution. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) also condemned the brutal machete gangs. “The law, of course, must take its full course in barbaric instances of this nature. The commission condemns all similar, past and present, barbaric and intentional murders and exhort law enforcement agencies to ensure the law takes its full course in such instances,” the organisation said. While the police has been accused of taking a laid back ap
proach, outrage and concerns over the safety of the people, including the police themselves, have seen the arrest of six members of a machete-wielding gang, including a 14-year-old boy, after a bloody shootout in connection with the killing of Hokoyo. The police also shot and killed a gold panner and arrested five others who had charged at them armed with machetes. As the war to contain the daring panners continues, 49 machete wielding criminals were also arrested in Nembudziya, Gokwe and charged with robbery and obstructing the course of justice recently. “Circumstances are that on January 6, 2020, nine machete wielding criminals robbed Zenda Mine, Gokwe of 80kgs of gold ore. The criminals were armed with machetes and they overpowered the security guard who was manning the place.
“The police reacted swiftly and with the assistance of the public arrested suspects who were taken to ZRP Zenda Base, Nembudziya. The getaway car (Toyota Wish) and a machete were recovered. Whilst at the police base, two commuter omnibuses carrying 40 armed artisanal miners from Kadoma arrived intending to forcefully free the nine criminals from custody,” the police said in a statement. The 40 gangsters were armed with machetes, axes, shovels, picks and knobkerries and charged towards the police motor vehicle, threatening to attack the officers and overrun the base unless their colleagues were released. The machete gangs reportedly ignored warning shots by the police, prompting the officers to shoot and injure two of them. The rest sought to escape in one of the cars, before the police shot and deflated the tyres of the motor vehicle, leading to their ar
rest. The Gokwe arrests came as police in Mazowe had just arrested a 14-member gang and recovered several machetes, axes, slashers, explosives and copper wire. In another incident, five machete-wielding gangsters wearing masks raided worshippers at a ZAOGA church in Mkoba suburb, in Gweru recently and got away with cash and cellphones in a movie-style robbery. On January 3, 2020, police were also forced to fire live bullets at a machete-wielding gang in Mphoengs in Matabeleland South, killing one, after the marauding mob tried to free one of their members who was in police custody. “There was an incident in Mphoengs on January 3, 2020 where a machete wielding gang teamed up with some unruly elements to free robbery, unlawful entry and theft suspect, Nkosana Moyo, from police custody. The gang went on to attack police officers and injured one. “During the scuffle, police fired some shots resulting in one suspect aged 35 being shot and passing on at a local hospital. The released suspect, Nkosana Moyo handed himself over to the police … while still in police handcuffs,” police said in a statement.

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