Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
Machete-wielding Illegal panners have become the country’s most brutal terror group, killing many people willy-nilly, causing mining towns dwellers to live in fear.
In the recent past, they have spread their criminal activities out of mining areas, attacking revellers across the country’s night spots and taking their possessions.
They are now also targeting money-changers and businesspeople who keep large sums of money in their homes.
The gang or gangs have imprinted out a reputation for violence from Chimanimani to Beitbridge, and from Mazowe to Bubi, terrorising fellow illegal panners and anyone who stands in their way.
Hardly a day passes without ghastly reports about the havoc being caused by these outlaws that seem to be acting with impunity.
Although there have been arrests of some of the gang members in the country, much still needs to be done to solve the issue once and for all.
Many people are losing lives because of the machete gangs and they seem to be the law unto themselves.
It is high time Government takes decisive action against the marauding criminals who are unleashing untold violence in mining communities.
Although they are popularly known as “MaShurugwi”, these gangs hardily come from Shurugwi and to keep referring to them with that moniker is not fair at all.
They are just groupings of unruly criminals armed with machetes, guns, knobkerries, catapults and spears.
Many of these gang members are known and are on police wanted lists countrywide for alleged rape, kidnapping and murder.
They are ruthless to the extent that one can get hurt or even killed for something as inoffensive as unintentionally stepping on the foot of a gang member at a drinking spot.
Recently, there were reports of arrests of the criminals, but there is need for authorities to be more vigilant to address the issue before it explodes.
The machete-wielding gangs believe that they are the godfathers of all illegal mining activities across the country.
Violence being perpetrated by the machete criminals and mining mafia is on the rise with loss of lives also on the increase.
Whenever there is word that rich deposits of gold or diamonds have been discovered in any part of the country, the gangs deploy their members to strong-arm their way in, and control the illegal mining activities in those areas, killing anyone who tries to stop them.
These gangs, no matter it is a syndicate or are operating as different gangs, were quick to realise that taking control of large swaths of land remote from Government attention, and dominating the people that mined in those areas would enable them to generate larger profit margins.
As a result, the fragmented nature of artisanal gold mining in the country has facilitated their entry, and is spreading to robberies of known businesspeople who are believed to have monies in their homes.
For example, The Herald of December 31, reported that a kombi-load of machete-wielding robbers attacked a well-secured Glen View 1 home of a Harare foreign currency dealer, critically injuring him, his brother and father, while a smaller gang with a firearm attacked another dealer in the same neighbourhood, shooting him once on the side of the head and twice in the leg.
The first three are still in critical condition in hospital, where they were rushed once police were summoned, while the dealer who was shot thrice, Edmore Kanyangira, is recuperating from home.
This is the level of criminality in the country at the present moment and urgent action is needed.
A joint operation comprising the police, army and other security operatives should be formed to flush out these machete-wielding gangs who are wreaking havoc across the country.
What is also worrying is that the thugs being arrested are young recruits, who spend many hours doing the footwork of identifying rich mineral seams and individual forex dealers and gold buyers.
There is need for the authorities to find and arrest the top rank — who are the real mafia, providing direction and some sort of cohesion to this crop of youngsters providing them with alcohol and other drugs to easily make them kill fellow countrymen without any fear.
To this end, on Tuesday the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) issued a stern warning, saying the rise in machete-wielding gangs fighting over the spoils of artisanal gold mining threaten to destabilise the country.
In a statement, the commission said: “The ZHRC unreservedly condemns the callous and unwarranted attack by the unruly and greedy, machete-wielding mob.
“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 with the contempt they deserve and exhort law enforcement agencies to ensure the law takes its full course in such instances.”
Therefore, artisanal mining should be declared illegal forthwith because it is responsible for the outpouring of violence all over the country as the gangs have become a law unto themselves.
Reports from the police point out that hundreds of people have been killed across the country in these rival fights over who controls which mine.
The gangs are ruthless, with a penchant for stealing gold ore from those they find operating in certain areas and from the gold buyers as well.
Anyone who tries to stand in their way is brutally murdered.
This cannot be allowed to continue.
People now live in fear thinking they will come across such ruthless gangs and be robbed, raped or killed.
Resorting to arrests alone will not adequately deal with the menace in the long term.
Parliament should play its role and get down to the bottom of the issue immediately. Banning of illegal mining should be swift because it was already prohibited by law, what simply needs to be done is to reverse the relaxation of the existing mining law and make artisanal mining illegal.
Across the board, although there are signs of increased focus on laws and regulations on organised crime, conflict minerals, human trafficking, the environment, and corruption, there still appear to be gaps in their regulation and enforcement.
The courts should be able to deal with arrested culprits without fear or favour.
More needs to be done, but together the country can win this war against the machete killers.