Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

Zimbabwe’s parliament has launched an inquiry into machete-wielding gangs behind a reign of terror at the country’s gold mines, killing hundreds and robbing other miners.

The killings have presented a new threat to Zimbabwe’s gold sector, one of the largest earners of foreign currency for the cash-strapped nation. Industry figures put the income from the mineral at about US$1bn annually.

With many international investors shunning Zimbabwe’s gold mining sector, the government has turned to informal mining to boost production and this had led to fierce infighting between the informal miners.

Zimbabwe decriminalised gold-digging three years ago to allow tens of thousands of unemployed people to work on small-scale mines around the country

Addressing journalists after an urgent meeting on Wednesday, chair of parliament’s portfolio committee on mines, Edmund Mukaratigwa, said parliament had launched investigations into the gold gangs.

“The committee deliberated on this issue today and resolved to hold an inquiry to identify and trace the foundations and development of the gold-panning gangs. This is to find out the socioeconomic impact of the disturbances on gold production in line with the US$12bn revenue target of 2023 set by the ministry of mines and mining development. These gangs are a danger to the mining industry.”

One of the areas gripped by violence caused by the machete gangs is Jumbo gold mine, 40km from the capital Harare and which was previously owned by SA businessman Mzi Khumalo’s Metallon.

Police have confirmed that many illegal miners have been killed at the mine. But the death toll is difficult to ascertain as many small-scale miners are murdered when the gangs clash in underground pits, leaving their bodies buried there.

On Wednesday police said they are continuing to carry out daily raids at the mine to apprehend suspects.

Fourteen illegal miners were arrested at Jumbo mine in Mazowe this Wednesday with 11 machetes and 423 explosives, the Zimbabwe Republic Police said. Four rows of copper wire and nine hammer mills were recovered.

“The use of machetes in mining and other areas will not be tolerated and the accused will appear in court soon,” police said.

Artisanal miners who spoke to Business Day at Jumbo mine gave gory details of the daily violence.

“The underground pits are the most dangerous but they can also be the most lucrative. It’s do or die. I have seen a number of my friends going underground and they have never come back,” said Shepherd Kativhu, a miner.   

“Others who come back return with injuries and they tell us that there are murderers down there who kill if you don’t give them the gold that you would have mined.” 

Last week, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission warned that the machete-wielding gold gangs, who killed a police officer recently, were threatening to destabilise the country.

The gangs are not afraid of law enforcement and at one time broke into a police station and killed a police officer to rescue a colleague who was in custody.

On Wednesday, state publication The Herald reported that police district commander Wonder Chisikwa, Zanu-PF MP Dexter Nduna and the ruling party’s provincial youth leader in Mashonaland West, Vengai Musengi, were arrested for suspected links to the machete gangs.

The trio’s cases are set to be heard at the end of this month.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the machete gangs were getting away scot-free because of their links to the police and the ruling Zanu-PF.