YOU have heard the stories, you have seen the terror they have unleashed on artisanal and small-scale mining communities and all that stand in their way.
Machete gangs were once a law unto themselves as they robbed people of cash, gold and ore.
Hardly a day passed without the media reporting of the extremely violent nature of the robberies and killings committed by the lawless bandits.
Mining communities around Zimbabwe were under siege from the marauding gangs that operated mainly in gold-rich districts; unleashing violence on a scale never seen before.
From Mazowe in Mashonaland Central right through the Great Dyke in the Midlands Province into Matabeleland South, gangs of men armed with machetes, axes, guns and other deadly weapons had been on a warpath; committing heinous crimes such as armed robberies and murder.
Small gold mines, gold buyers and stamp mills were their prime targets.
Police responded by launching operations targeting the gangs and banned the carrying of dangerous weapons in public.
Arrests and convictions were made leading to the taming of the machete-wielding gangs.
B-Metro visited Bulawayo Prison and caught up with Gift Bongani Nyathi (27), a member of a machete gang and he had a lot to share.
Nyathi said he ventured into gold mining way back in 2016 after returning from South Africa, where he was residing since he was 11 years old.
“My parents relocated with me to South Africa when I was in Grade Six and that’s where I later proceeded to do my primary and secondary education and soon after completing my education, I decided to come back to Zimbabwe.
“When I moved back to Zimbabwe in 2016, I decided to venture into mining as I had realised that job opportunities in other fields were very difficult such that one could go for more than five months without being formally employed,” he said.
Nyathi said while working at a mine in Inyathi, he met a team of gold panners that was mainly into robbing other syndicates of their gold and ore.
“Whilst in Inyathi, I can say I fell into the wrong hands as I worked with a syndicate that was mainly into robbing other teams their gold and ore. We used our employer’s vehicle to carry the ore to a nearby stamping meal.
“We used machetes, axes and a pistol. A lot of people who knew that we were into robbery always wondered where we got the powers to attack a lot of people that we use to meet at different mines,” he said.
But before they ventured into robbery, the gang first went to Mhondoro Ngezi, where a traditional healer gave them juju armbands that helped them evade arrest.
“We actually went all the way to Ngezi as a syndicate and we met this traditional healer who gave us juju better known as amabhanti or better known as armbands.
“These armbands worked in a magical way as the armbands told us that police officers were coming after us. They had two signs that they gave us, they would make our arms itch or they would vibrate like a cellphone,” he said.
Nyathi revealed that the armbands gave them supernatural powers to fight off anyone who stood in their way no matter the odds against them.
“The armbands gave us power to fight with more than 20 people at one go and we would win that match and get away from the scene with the ore we needed.
“The juju made us to be the most feared people in the community and in some cases, people would fall asleep when we got into their premises to steal,” he said.
Nyathi said failure to follow instructions on how to use the armband led to his arrest.
“In short, let me say a lot of people out there who are into mining use juju for their success, but the unfortunate part of using this black magic is that it has got some conditions that are attached to it.
“Not everyone is able to follow those conditions and that is the reason some of us later found themselves behind bars and as we speak, I was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of robbery.
“I had a misunderstanding with my wife and this altercation later saw my wife calling the police telling them on my actual location and this arrest saw me being sentenced to prison for four years.
“Whilst in prison, I have actually realised that the armband can make you find yourself in serious trouble as you would go for a long time without being caught by the police.
“In my case, I had three counts of robbery that I had committed and that is why they later realised that it was fit for me to stay in prison for four years,” he said.
The convict said soon after completing his jail term he intends to go into mining, but will not make use of the armband.
“I got information that my wife sold all the property that I had acquired and that really affected me.
“I now intend to try and live a clean life that does not involve killing people as we would be robbing them their gold,” he said.