A GOLD rush involving some powerful political figures in the country has erupted in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central province, prompting the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to deploy state security agents to protect claims believed to belong to “very senior people”, it has emerged.
Melody Chikono/Tinashe Kairiza
The mining claims, according to some artisanal miners who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent, are owned by known Zanu PF figures with strong links to syndicates notorious for smuggling the precious mineral outside the country, mainly to or via the Middle East.
The frenzied gold rush comes at a time the International Crisis Group (ICG) last week released a report that fingered President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his deputy Constantino Chiwenga and Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo as the main characters leading factions angling to control the lucrative gold sector.
Police national spokesperson Paul Nyathi last night told the Independent that there had been an outcry over the gold issue in Rosa caused by the gold rush with indications that people were mining everywhere, including around homesteads, roads and agricultural fields.
“As a result there are people who went to the provincial director to register claims on other people’s fields and there are those that did not go but are just mining. There is chaos in that area.
“Police then had to move in and they are working with the provincial mining director to bring sanity. But what is important is that the Ministry of Mines should make sure that the existing problems are solved once and for all,” he said.
“As police, we do not condone any criminal acts by any officer deployed there and we have urged people to make reports on such acts, but so far we are yet to receive a complaint.”
Nyathi said to date 56 663 people around the country have been arrested since the machete gangs broke out.
Zimbabwe, according to ICG, loses US$1,5 billion in potential revenue through gold smuggling, which is mostly spirited out of the country.
Information obtained by the Independent suggests that small-scale miners who have been operating in the gold-rich area for a long time have not had peace as they are being harassed by state security agents on a daily basis since reports of the involvement of top politicians surfaced a few months ago.
The CIO agents have reportedly unleashed a reign of terror on artisanal miners who have been trying to eke out a living in the Rosa area.
Miners who have been operating there for years were told about two months ago that there were new owners of the claims and that unless they wanted to work under these new owners, they were free to leave. During its visit to Chiweshe this week, the Independent witnessed numerous artisanal miners on their work routines with most of them reportedly working on behalf of top Zanu PF officials.
There are fears among the miners that the political syndicates are manoeuvring to grab the whole mining area for themselves.
Mazowe South legislator Sydney Chidamba (Zanu PF), MP for the area, distanced himself from the mining activities, but highlighted that he was trying to restore order.
“I am not involved in illegal gold mining activities taking place there. Personally, I am just supporting the concept that the miners should be constituted in well-defined groups to conduct legal mining,” Chidamba said.
“I know of the Mazowe syndicate (which also operates in Rosa in Chiweshe), but I am not involved. I do not hold any claim in the area.”
Some of the miners shared their experiences at the hands of state security agents on covert operations in the area.
“Whenever gold is discovered at a pit, the next day you see strange people who invade those pits and sometimes take away money from these owners. We cannot do anything because they have guns and claim to be acting on behalf of very senior and powerful people from Harare,” one artisanal miner said.
“Those people you see in nice work suits, not all of them are miners,” the visibly frightened miner said as he pointed out three men walking at a distance.
“They are here on a mission. We hear they have been deployed for that purpose. In the past, they would come here only when they heard that there was a new productive unit, but they have increased their frequency for the past two months or so. They now visit every two weeks,” the miner said.
Police have also moved in and set up a base and pitched tents at the nearby Rosa Clinic, but miners said their presence has not helped the situation as they are being bribed by the powerful and the rich.
“These police officers have been harassing people demanding bribes, taking away our equipment and even gold under the guise of demanding licenses,” one miner said.
“People have lost a lot of money to these officers. We are now living in fear. We hear some top government politicians want to take over this mining area. That’s why they have been sending their people,” another informal miner said.
Police details are also accused of letting the illegal miners extract the precious metal in exchange for a fee, based on the amount of gold mined.