POLICE fired live bullets and teargas canisters to disperse angry villagers in the Wondedzo area in Masvingo North amid protests and clashes over illegal mining and looting of gold by Zanu PF and state security agents syndicates from a local mineral-rich hill last Sunday, The NewsHawks can report.
The clashes over gold degenerated into running battles between anti-riot police and villagers who confiscated unused teargas canisters and handcuffs in the chaos as the battle for the control of the gold deposits intensified and spun out of control.
Villagers, including enraged youths, women and traditional leaders, ganged up in the early hours of Sunday to confront police invaders and blocked roads leading to Wodzedzo Hill — the explosive site of a recent gold rush.
They dug trenches on the road, blocking vehicles from accessing the gold deposit. They further confiscated gold ore from a Ford Ranger single cab owned by an army officer, only identified as Colonel Makufa, who pleaded for mercy but to no avail.
Villagers prevailed over the soldier in their collective rage and aggression, and seized the gold.
Wondedzo B village head Saina Chinomwe told The NewsHawks that villagers were angered by the continued plunder of gold ore from the hill, while locals are side-lined.
He said the protest was a way of sending a loud and clear message to state security agents and provincial leaders that they should not abuse their authority for corrupt practices and self-enrichment.
“I am here leading my people in this protest because this gold is a natural resource which belongs to us, the local community,” Chinomwe said.
“We cannot watch while our resources are being looted. The hill is in our grazing lands and it is now difficult for us to head our cattle due to police officers camping there and harassing us.”
After failing to disperse villagers, anti-riot police details, who were outnumbered, fired teargas at the crowd and into a hut occupied by children at Joshua Mhuka’s homestead, but one of the police officers rushed to rescue the children from the hut to prevent a disaster.
The move forced the youths to advance towards the officers who then fired live bullets into the air, although the charging youngsters did not back down.
A local villager, Felix Tagarira, was handcuffed by the police, but members of the community rescued him by removing the handcuffs.
Tagarira told The NewsHawks that he was handcuffed after police accused him of being one of the ring-leaders of the protest.
He said he took the handcuffs and an unused teargas canister and handed them over to police details at the hill on Wednesday morning.
“l am just a villager who joined the community to express our displeasure on how resources — gold — from our area are being plundered. For sure I was handcuffed, but to my surprise the handcuffs were removed by brave members of the community. I gave the handcuffs and a teargas canister to the (Police) Support Unit details at the hill on Wednesday,” said Tagarira.
Contacted for comment, Masvingo police spokesperson Inspector Kudakwashe Dhewa said he was not aware of the incident. “I am not aware of what happened at Wondedzo Hill on Sunday, but l will investigate the matter and come back to you” he said.
Local Ward 32 councillor Stephen Munyenyiwa said villagers were angered by the looting of gold by police and Zanu PF syndicates with impunity.
However, he said after the fighting a new arrangement has been agreed, which will see all villagers being given the opportunity to extract ore from the hill.
He said the community should benefit ahead of people from other areas.
“The villagers were angry and they were right. They were not being given a chance to mine gold in their area, while syndicates from outside were mining continuously,” said Munyenyiwa.
Makufa, who was in the company of a man who produced a “Government of Zimbabwe” identity card written Mabhiza S, said he pleaded with villagers for mercy, telling them his home is near Beza Mountain in Mutimurefu, but in vain.
He said he had bought the gold ore from a police syndicate at the hill for US$250.
Makufa also said it was his first time at the gold rush cite, but he was not coming back after his experience.
His vehicle tyres were deflated by the angry youths before they seized the gold.
The villagers had also gone to the hill to confiscate all the gold ore which had been extracted by the pillaging syndicates the night before — on Saturday night.
Police reinforcements were deployed in the area on Sunday afternoon after the clashes, but found the protest over and villagers having dispersed and retreated back to their homes.
A panner from Mberengwa, who identified himself as Maxwell Sibanda, told The NewsHawks that he was assaulted by the youths and had all his gold ore confiscated.
“My brother, it is better for you not to approach that hill, villagers are angry and youths assaulted me and took all the gold ore which I had extracted from the trench last night. I paid US$10 to police for me to be allowed into the trench last night, but I lost all the gold ore after digging the whole night. I’m really disappointed and don’t know what to do now,” Sibanda said.
Zimbabwe — which is mineral-rich but poor due to chronic governance failures and corruption problems — has a lot of artisanal and small-scale miners across the country.
Gold is found in every province in the country, perhaps in almost every district.
Small-scale mining in Zimbabwe and elsewhere has earned the dubious distinction of being the springboard for people-centred development.
It holds out opportunities to eradicate poverty, create employment, generate income from mineral exports, and provide social stability.
A thriving small-scale mining sector, besides offering direct employment and real income to the unskilled rural populace, also helps in stemming the rural-urban migration, enabling people to stay rooted in their communities engaged in complementing agricultural, trading and development.
In effect, the multiplier effects of small-scale mining are pervasive and significant, providing synergistic inputs into the local and national economy.
But the main problem has remained the looting of minerals in Zimbabwe by cartels and their politically connected owners. Diamonds, chrome and gold are some of the most looted minerals.
A detailed investigative report by South Africa’s Daily Maverick publication released this week exposed how high profile cartels are plundering the country and impoverishing the people.