THE National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NRPC) has called on political leaders to stop the blame game and unite in finding solutions that will end the machete gangs’ reign of terror.
This comes as the opposition MDC has accused Zanu PF bigwigs of funding and supporting the machete-wielders for personal gain, with Zanu PF responding similarly by labelling the MDC as the sponsors of the violent maShurugwi gangs.
In an interview with the Daily News on Sunday recently, NPRC commissioner Charles Masunungure said the issue of machete-wielding gangs should not be used for political mileage, but should be considered as a security threat at all levels — that is socially, politically and economically.
“When you look at the rhetoric that political parties are using you will see that it’s not constructive, it is rather focused on blaming each other and capitalising on the problem of violent machete-wielders. “What our political leaders, mainly from Zanu PF and MDC, should be doing right now is coming together and placing major focus on finding sustainable solutions to this problem,” Masunungure said. Masunungure further warned political leaders against issuing statements that can potentially incite violence and result in clashes between the youth and the machete gangs.
“Let me hasten to say that this is not the time to produce sensationalised and careless statements which incite violence,” Masunungure said. In recent months, gangs of artisanal miners known as maShurugwi or Mabhuru — depending on their location — have been roaming gold mining communities sexually assaulting women, injuring and killing people using machetes before stealing gold, cash and other valuables.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police has since launched a blitz against the machete-wielding gangs, with over 1 500 having been arrested. Masunungure said that there was need to assist the police in ensuring that the machete gangs are captured and face justice. “I believe the nation needs to come together and support the efforts that the police are making in arresting these machete-wielding gangs.
This is, however, a short term solution which needs to be supported by other initiatives,” he said. Masunungure further said as a long-term solution there is need to address the chaos that is within the country’s formal and informal mining industry. “Long before we had the maShurugwi reign of terror, the country’s mining sector, particularly the informal sector, did not have cohesion.
A lot of illegal activities were going on and such an environment has led to the sudden upsurge of these machete gangs. “Therefore simply arresting the machete-wielders without dealing with the root cause is like treating symptoms not the source of the problem,” Masunungure said. Adding that the starting point could be formalising and regulating the informal sector and dealing with issues of retention and royalties.
“All relevant stakeholders need to come together and organise the informal mining sector so as to curb all illegal activity and create a mining environment that does not facilitate the growth of terror groups seeking to take advantage of chaos. “The government also needs to consider reducing the muchloathed 55 percent retention threshold to encourage miners to follow the right channels, which in turn will curb the growth of illegal activities that can turn violent,” Masunungure said.
Meanwhile, former MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora warned that if the maShurugwi problem is not addressed, it could turn into a civil war.
“These (maShurugwi) are an organised outfit that seems to enjoy officialdom. They therefore pose a serious security threat in that sooner or later there will be armed conflict and this will start with use of crude weapons like machete, axes, and even bows and arrows, but it will escalate into a conflict involving firearms.
“This calls for a multi-stakeholder approach involving government, security apparatus and the political parties in Parliament. The parties will play a big role within the legislature because it is clear that this is being turned into political party propaganda issues amid accusation and counter-accusations between the MDC and Zanu PF,” Mwonzora said