Patrick Chitumba Midlands Bureau Chief
A gold rush in Wozoli area, Silobela has left scores of gold panners injured as the community fight against a local businessman, Vurayai Marima, who is claiming ownership of the gold claim.Chronicle visited Wozoli area where more than 10 villagers showed the news crew scars on their bodies from battles with the police called to secure the claim.
Villages said police dogs were set on them as they were panning for gold at a site they said was discovered by a local, Nkululeko Gasela.
The community is alleging that “the well connected” Marima wants them off the gold claim which they feel should benefit them.
Chronicle interviewed some of the gold panners and villagers who said that they had been brutalised after attempting to pan for gold. The gold claim has been fenced off with only Marima’s employees allowed to mine while hundreds of gold panners watch from a distance.
Marima, popularly known as Bravo in the area, confirmed that the illegal gold panners had been attacked by police dogs when they tried to illegally pan for gold at his claim.
He said he asked for extra security from the police after noting that his security details could be overpowered by the gold panners. “Where there’s a gold rush there are always forces that want to have access to the gold ore. Indeed there’s a gold rush in the area but I’m the rightful owner of the claim,” he said.
Marima said he will continue mining and protecting his claim from the villagers.
Village head Msongelwa Makaba, however, differed with Marima. He said locals had discovered the claim and instead of benefiting,
Marima in cahoots with some police officers, had barricaded the area.
“Locals discovered the gold claim and many youths then descended on it but Marima and the police quickly barricaded it. Police vehicles could be seen carrying gold ore and we don’t know to where,” he said.
Vice chairperson of the Wozoli Batanai District Association Stuck Mazibisa said it was unfortunate that locals were not benefiting from their God given natural resource.
He said women, children and even livestock were being terrorised by Marima and his security guards. “We’re suffering here, our children are being beaten Marima’s security guards. They’re always telling us that they’re above the law and that the police can’t touch him,” he said.
Yesterday, the villagers held a demonstration near the mine. They said they could not go closer to the mine for fear of having police dogs set on them.
Nkululeko Gasela told Chronicle that he discovered the gold claim accidentally.
“I was walking when I was tripped by a rock and fell to the ground. I rose up and looked at it and decided to crush it. To my utter amazement, it had some gold.”
He said he later told his cousin Edmore Nkomo and the two spent the whole night digging and putting the gold ore in bags. “When day came, scores of other gold panners joined us. If I was educated I could’ve gone to look for a prospector’s licence which Bravo claims to have,” said Gasela.
He said he was pained by the fact that Bravo was now kicking him out with the rest of other panners when it was him who discovered the claim.
Midlands provincial police spokesperson Inspector Joel Goko said he was not aware of the gold rush in Silobela.
He said police had only been called to mediate in a gold claim wrangle between Alice Watadza and Senzeni Mukungurutse which is in a complete different area.
“What I know is that there’s a claim dispute at Lancaster farm on the outskirts of Gweru and police are there to make sure that there is peace,” he said.