Covid-19 lockdown slows down Mashurugwi violence, gold production – report

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

THE surge in machete violence in the gold sector started receding when government announced a national lockdown, which commenced on 30 March, Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) said.

The lockdown saw police and soldiers setting up numerous roadblocks throughout the country where, among other things, people were asked to produce exemption letters authorising them to travel.

However, before the Covid-19 induced lockdown, the name MaShurugwi was the subject of a violent narrative sweeping over the country’s mining sector, a phenomenon of terror synonymous with towns and communities where artisanal gold mining is done.

Since then, Zimbabwe’s gold mining communities in particular, have been living in fear of terror gangs whose modus operandi is said to have originated from the Midlands Province.

As of 5 March this year, police had arrested 4,570 artisanal miners countrywide after hundreds of people were left dead, injured or robbed.

However, two incidents of Machete violence have been reported in Mbembesi, just outside Bulawayo and in Kwekwe.

In its report, ‘From Blood Diamonds to Blood Gold’ released Monday on machete violence in Zimbabwe’s ASM Gold sector, CNRG said the lockdown also slowed down artisanal gold production due to limited supply of chemicals such as cyanide, which is imported from countries that closed their borders much earlier than Zimbabwe.

CNRG noted that smuggling went up during the lockdown as the illicit gold market adapted to the lockdown conditions in various ways.

“RG Mugabe International Airport remained open to both passenger and cargo planes whilst the country’s porous borders remained active, the closure of Beitbridge Border Post has seen a rise in organised crime as security officials on both sides of the border facilitate illegal passage of smugglers into both countries,” the report said.

“The ZRP operation ‘No to Anarchy by Artisanal Miners’ was followed by yet another operation dubbed Operation Chikorokoza Ngachipere (Operation Stop Artisanal mining) in early January, this time by the Joint Operations Command, the security supreme organ of the country, as the public demand for political action against machete gangs grew.

“According to the police, the operation led to the confiscation of nine hammer mill engines, jack hammer, water tank, 35 litres of diesel, wheelbarrows, shovels and a water pump.”

However, the above are typical equipment used by artisanal miners and have no link whatsoever to armed robbery that necessitated the police operation.

The police operation ended with the national lockdown enforced by the government to contain the deadly coronavirus in March.

“The massive crackdown on artisanal miners, some of whom are still languishing in jail and the tough implementation of the lockdown regulations has seen a number of artisanal miners staying away from the pits,” the report added.

“Nevertheless, the number of artisanal miners is set to rise again once the national lockdown is fully lifted and when the gold market is thriving again.”

Commenting on why it was difficult to curtail the artisanal miners operations, the mining rights watchdog said in its report, said the miners were untouchables due to political influence.

“There is some degree of impunity in the way the machete gangs were operating,” said the report.

“The machete gangsters were allegedly being protected by some powerful politicians who benefit from their lawlessness.

“Though yet to be proven, these gangs might play a crucial role in the 2023 elections as they will be instrumental in instilling fear and intimidation in various communities during elections.

“If at all they enjoy impunity granted by powerful politicians, the same politicians will demand pay back in the form of violent campaigning ensuring they retain their constituencies in the next election.”