Illegal gold panners target Premier Estates in Mutasa district

AS hoes, picks and shovels hit the rocks and disconnected voices reach peak, hundreds of exhausted, barefoot and drained illegal gold miners besiege Premier Estate in Mutasa district in the hunt for gold.

The illegal panners, affectionately known as Makorokoza or Gwejas in mining lingo, have cut trees, overturned rocks, and pushed the debris into Mutare River, choking it with mud, instigating serious land degradation and river pollution.

Hard-pressed by an infinite economic repression, distressed illegal panners have begun a new wave of tearing up the Premier Estate’s countryside in search of gold.

Widespread hunger that has wreaked havoc in Manicaland and the country as a whole, has forced the desperate into joining hordes of people seeking for fortune through illegal gold panning activities.

Children have also joined the ‘dig’.

Like countless others, they have missed out on education, trading books for the pick and shovel and are hoping for a golden ticket out of poverty.

The illegal activity has left behind a trail of destruction that
includes devastated fields and forests, mud-choked and mercury-tainted water along the Mutare River.

The river itself is now filled with silt, harming ecosystems as well as
farming, fish, and drinking water.

Illegal miners cut and burn wood indiscriminately to fuel their makeshift camps, leaving ‘deserts’ in their wake.

The mercury and cyanide used by the illegal panners to separate gold from the ore and then flush the toxins into the Mutare River have had some devastating effects on the water.

A recent visit to the Premier Estate recently revealed that the
illegal panners raid the farm late in the afternoon and night in search of the precious mineral.

However, like many of the young unemployed youths, John Jonhera from Murewa has joined the craze after hearing that Premier Estate was “overflowing” with gold.

 “All what I am looking for is survival. I want to survive and fend
for my family. I’m here all the way from Murewa because of hunger;
because there is nothing for my family, including even food,” he said.

Local and international gold buyers have become a common feature
around Freaks Business Centre, which is less than 5km from the estate, ready to buy the precious mineral.

The business centre has become a hive of activity owing to the cash that exchanges hands there on a daily basis.

Residents in and around Premier Estate, which is within the farming areas, said the illegal panners were causing serious social problems in
areas such as drug and alcohol abuses, illicit sex and violence.

“Teenage girls have been exposed to sex. The gwejas are using the
power of the United States dollar to lure the young girls,” Wendy Sachikonye, an elderly woman in the area, said.

“A lot of illicit things are happening here. The young girls are prematurely falling pregnant while boys are into excessive beer drinking and drugs abuse,” she added.

On February 5, the Joint Operation Command (JOC) in Manicaland launched “Operation Chikorokoza Ngachipere” or “No More illegal Mining”, targeting illegal gold miners in the area.

JOC is the supreme State organ responsible for the co-ordination of security in the country and comprises of the army, police, Central Intelligence Organisation and Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services.

Operation “Chikorokoza Ngachipere” is part of government’s mitigatory
efforts to bring back sanity into the mining sector.

The operation is meant to end the machete-wars menace countrywide which have accounted for the deaths of hundreds of illegal gold miners.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi
confirmed the operation.

“We are moving in swiftly to all parts of the country where there are
machete gangs, illegal miners, selling and dealing in drugs, among
other nefarious activities.

“We would want to urge the public to fully co-operate with the police during these operations,” Nyathi said.

 JOC recently pounced on the unsuspecting miners and vendors around 4am and started burning all the shacks and property at Premier Estate.

Vendors who had erected shacks near the goldfields were left counting
their loses, while others who were hiding near goldfields also lost their goods, including carbornated drinks, mealie meal and sugar, among other commodities.

According to police, an estimated 500 illegal gold panners are refusing to vacate Mutare River banks and some nearby homesteads, searching for the precious mineral.

Mutare South Legislator (MDC Alliance), Regai Tsunga, said members
of the community in the area were having sleepless nights following a
recent attack by the infamous machete gangs that had invaded his gold-rich constituency.

“It’s now scary; we are living in fear.

“The culprits have to be brought to book and law must take its course,” he said.

“The issue has to be addressed, otherwise there is fear that the menace will increase in this area,” Tsunga said.

Despite the police raids, scores of illegal miners from all over the
country have remained adamant and resorted to playing hide-and-seek with the police, as they look for more gold for survival.