By Staff Reporter
POLICE in Kwekwe Monday conducted raids which saw the arrest of 215 suspected illegal gold panners.
The law enforcement agents spent long periods engaged in running battles with the miners.
Police deployed four truckloads of its details to conduct the raids.
The dragnet, however, also saw arrests on individuals who were working on registered mining claims.
One registered claim owner was disappointed police arrested his workers.
“I was shocked to hear that police had arrested my workers. I have a registered mining claim and all my papers are in order,” he said.
The running battles even spilled into Kwekwe Central with the CBD in virtual police lockdown as the law enforcement agents were hunting for the illegal miners.
Kwekwe Central police could not accommodate all those arrested, and they had to be distributed Redcliff and Amaveni holding cells.
On Tuesday, there was tension and a heavy presence of anti-riot police at the Kwekwe Magistrates’ Courts as the miners were being brought into court with the court officials locking out an angry public.
“My husband works at a mining claim and by the time of his arrest, he was not even at the mine.
“They merely arrested him based on his appearance since he was still untidy as he was still in his work gear.
“I have even brought him sadza but they are not allowing us to get inside the court,” an angry woman said.
Authorities had to screen some of the artisanal miners who ended up paying fines.
Midlands Chief Prosecutor Samuel Pedzisayi said in an interview that authorities had to conduct vetting and clearance sessions at the court.
“I am based in Gweru, but we had to come down to Kwekwe because of the nature of the case. We realised that personnel here will be overwhelmed as 215 were arrested.
“However, it was realised that some who were arrested were at legally registered mining claims. So, we had to free those, and depending on the veracity of the issue after screening, some had to be released and be allowed to pay fines.
“What we want to do is to deal with the real culprits who are illegally prospecting; those indeed need to face prosecution and are going to face the wrath of the law. We don’t condone illegal mining activities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Lawyer Artwell Chinamatira who was representing some of the miners said the dragnet was inhumane.
“These arrests are very inhumane the only crime committed by my clients is to fend for their families. These are the people who are trying to eke out an honest living for their families,” he said.