When gold becomes a curse . . . maShurugwi menace has nation shell-shocked

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WHILE gold and diamonds have created wealth for many countries and individuals across the world, this has not been the case in Zimbabwe, where these minerals have become a curse to ordinary citizens and other fortune seekers. Mining towns have been turned into war zones by machete gangs, popularly known as maShurugwi, 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 wreaked havoc and left many families in tears, the machete gangs have spread across the country, leaving a trail of destruction in mainly the Midlands, Mashonaland and Manicaland provinces which are rich in gold and diamond. The government has declared war on the machete gangs, amid reports they have so far killed over 100 people including police officers, the killings continue to rise, with the culprits getting more daring by each day. Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi recently said the government was
mulling a shoot-to-kill policy against the miners, but this has not deterred them from carrying out the heinous acts. Faced with a similar problem, the government was in 2006 forced to deploy military personnel in the Chiadzwa and Marange diamond fields in Manicaland Province to curb a wave of illegal panning in the area. As the death toll continues to rise, the parliamentary portfolio committee on Mines and Mining Development last week 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 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 evi
dence, the committee will produce and present a comprehensive report to Parliament, while also making recommendations for action. From targeting ordinary citizens, the daring machete gang 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 is still battling for
his life at Kadoma General Hospital. The two men were among four officers guarding the mine, armed with FN rifles, but were over-powered by the gold panners who were armed with axes, logs and machetes. As the debate rages 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 pro
gramme,” ZPP said. ZPP said the unrelenting exhibition of lawlessness by these gangs made it impossible for citizens to enjoy security as guaranteed by the Constitution. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) also condemned the unruly behaviour by the machete gang. On its part, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s executive director, Blessing Gorejena, said the attacks by the maShurugwi gangs spelt doom for the country in 2020, in terms of promoting and protecting human rights. “If this problem is not solved, then we cannot talk of a better 2020 in terms of safeguarding people’s rights. Relevant authorities should be asking themselves who these machete wielders are, who is supporting them and why they have suddenly become more powerful than law enforcers? “This will help in coming up with feasible solutions that will put an end to this once and for all,” Gorejena said. The government said it would urgently bring in new measures to deny bail to those arrested for crimes associated with the menace. As the battle to contain the daring panners continue, 49 machete wielding criminals were also arrested in Nembudziya, Gokwe and charged with robbery and obstructing course of justice last week. The 40 criminals were armed with machetes, axes, shovels, picks and knobkerries and charged towards the police motor vehicle, threatening to attack the police officers and overrun the police 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 the suspects. 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 arrest.

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