NOTORIOUS fortune seekers, mostly gold panners, have announced themselves on Harare’s door step.
The illegal miners have set up camp at Kintyre Estates, where they are tearing into a mountain supporting the walls of Lake Chivero.
As a consequence, they are increasing the pollution of an already toxic Lake Chivero through the use of chemicals such as mercury.
Harare Mayor Councillor Herbert Gomba confirmed this: “The illegal miners are discarding heavy chemicals such as mercury into Lake Chivero and as such have put the water body and human life at risk. We have referred the issue to both Government and the police so that they can be stopped.”
The gold panners and their supporting businesses have sought accommodation in nearby Norton, where they have invaded the usually sleepy town, which until recently enjoyed a low crime rate, affordable housing and prospects of economic prosperity.
Others have been operating in Hatcliffe Extension, where they are threatening anything that stands in their way — be it roads, entire suburbs, schools, Glen Forest cemetery and any other important infrastructure.
According to Chiedza Chipangura, an official with the Zimbabwe Miners Federation and a former chairperson of the Norton Miners Association, “gold is everywhere in Zimbabwe”.
This means if left unchecked, these fortune-seekers could soon be digging up buildings in Harare and disturbing the network of fibre optic, electricity cables and water pipes.
“As I speak, there is a gold rush in Chidamoyo, Hurungwe. Even Harare is sitting on top of gold and if the illegal miners are not tamed, we might wake up to see them digging up the streets,” Chipangura said.
Harare can actually learn from what these makorokozas have done to towns such as Shurugwi, Kwekwe and Kadoma, where they turned everything upside down in search of gold.
Chegutu and Norton are the latest victims of the marauding gold panners, who will stop at nothing to get the precious mineral.
Until recently, Norton was just a small town some 40km west of Harare, a bastion of tranquillity and economic growth. Strategically located near Lake Chivero, Harare’s major source of fresh water, Norton’s rich farm lands and vast organised mining activities came under attack with the arrival of the gold panners.
Founded in 1914, the town prides itself in having factories, a pulp and paper mill and even a brewery.
Thousands of people, the majority of them coming from Harare and Chegutu, flocked to Norton. Among those that fell in love with the town included the late national hero and music superstar, Oliver Mtukudzi, who called Norton his home until he breathed his last.
However, the town’s reputation as one of the fastest growing and safest urban settlements came to a screeching halt when illegal gold panners began scouring for the precious metal in areas surrounding the town.
The influx of the machete-wielding miners has resulted in some of the residents regretting their decision to set base in this town.
As a result of all the bad things associated with the violent panners, Norton has, to a larger extent, become an undesirable destination for many.
Among the prime farming areas that have been invaded by the panners are Kent Estates, Westband and Donnington farms, thereby reducing agricultural land to dangerous pits and gullies.
The panners, among them the feared “Mashurugwi” gangs, are travelling from as far afield as Shurugwi, Silobela, Gweru, Gokwe and Mutare. Apart from stealing and forcibly taking ore from mines, the panners are also wreaking havoc at shopping centres.
Most bars are now no-go areas for locals, as the panners, who have a penchant for violence, attack locals at the slightest provocation. Rival illegal panners often take their feuds to the drinking spots, resulting in some of the locals being caught up in the crossfire.
Many locals are believed to have lost both life and limb.
As news of the miners’ violent activities become more frequent, distressed calls by Norton residents for authorities to put an end to this madness are growing louder by the day.
The burning down of a house in Norton Ward 12 by a gang of panners who were fighting over a commercial sex worker has proved to be the final straw.
Civic and political leaders, farmers, miners and the residents have since joined hands as they moot ways of ending this menace.
Laston Tachiona, the Norton Ward 12 councillor, is regretting the residents’ decision to rent out accommodation to the illegal miners.
“This is a disaster. Since the miners are our fellow brothers and countrymen, we embraced them and rented out rooms to them. It appears we are now being punished for being compassionate,” Tachiona said.
Ward 12 covers the high-density suburbs of Maridale, Kingsdale and Garikai, where the majority of the panners are living. Tachiona says as a result of the panners’ violent dispositions, the residents are now observing a curfew of some sort.
“We are telling locals not to patronise the drinking spots that are frequented by the miners. We are also encouraging them not to drink late into the night. As residents, we need to stay away from these people whose motives are always dangerous,” said Tachiona.
Letwin Nyagano, vice-chairperson of the Norton Development Association, said the presence of the violent panners is bad for both social and economic development.
“They come here, forcibly take gold ore and beat up beerhall patrons. The gold they forcibly take is channelled towards the black market and we are not in any way benefiting from associating with the illegal miners,” Nyagano said.
Her counterpart, Liziwe Musevedza, the chairperson of the Norton Residents Development Trust, echoed the same sentiments.
“All they do is drink and fight. They are not adding any value to our community,” Musevedza said.
Temba Mliswa, Norton House of Assembly member, has been very vocal on the issue, calling upon authorities to find ways of dealing with the panners.
Mliswa even suggested that locals take up martial arts as a way of defending themselves from the dangerous miners.
Mululeki “Mayor” Ncube, a Norton-based journalist, said the local authority has seemingly run out of ideas in their efforts to bring sanity to the town.
“The panners are a law unto themselves and the residents are distraught and helpless. Something must be done urgently,” Ncube said.
Chipangura, who represents the Zimbabwe Miners Federation in Mashonaland West Province, said the problems that are associated with illegal gold miners are not only confined to Norton.
“There are people holding on to mining claims and are not productive, resulting in panners invading such claims. If those that own claims can be productive, we can do away with such problems,” Chipangura said.
The illegal miners have also encroached onto farming land in nearby Zvimba East.
Ruzai Muchaurawa, the Ward 25 Councillor in the Zvimba Rural District Council, confirmed the presence of artisanal miners in Zvimba.
“The illegal miners are coming from Norton and are giving us sleepless nights. Something should be done urgently,” Muchaurawa said.
With the gold panners’ foot already in the country’s capital city Harare, will authorities finally take notice and curb this marauding force of brutality, destruction and thievery?
Only time will tell.