Whinsley Masara, Chronicle Reporter
POLICE officers fled and left behind a cuffed suspect at Habane Business Centre in Esigodini after they were attacked by an armed gang of suspected gold panners.
The incident, which occurred on Monday night, is the latest in the Esigodini gold wars that have left a number of people dead and several others injured.
Residents said police officers had to seek refuge in some shops while running away from the illegal miners’ gang infamously known as ‘oNkayi’ — name derived from their place of origin.
When The Chronicle visited the business centre yesterday, most shops and bars were closed, with a few vendors saying business owners were fed up with the wars which were disrupting their operations.
The Monday scuffle, the residents said, was triggered by the arrest of the panners’ ring leader.
The pitched “battle” took place at Habane Beer Garden.
Residents said the fighting started at about 7PM and calm was only restored at about midnight.
They said something drastic should be done to bring sanity to Esigodini.
“Gangs are now running the streets. Gunshots can be fired anytime. These gangs do not fear or respect anyone. No one is safe and we appeal to the police to do something,” said a resident.
A patron who said he was at the bar when the panners invaded the place, said the gang had threatened to kill someone.
“Fearing for our lives we had to call the police who came in their numbers and arrested the gang leader. The gang responded by attacking the police officers who had to flee for dear life leaving behind the cuffed suspect,” he said.
The patron said what was frightening was that armed police officers were forced to flee leaving behind a cuffed suspect.
A disgruntled vendor at the centre said they were worried that police were failing to protect innocent citizens.
“Police are letting us down because every time these hooligans attack and they are called, the gang prevails over them. I think this the fourth time something like this has happened,” said the vendor, who asked not to be named fearing reprisal.
He said what is required now is the anti-riot police and the dog section.
A businessman who also preferred anonymity, said the failure by police officers to arrest the culprits was adversely affecting their businesses.
“Right now I have opened earlier than my licence permits to try and cover for the lost sales since police ordered us to close at around 9PM instead of midnight,” he said.
Matabeleland South police spokesperson, Inspector Philisani Ndebele could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this month, an Esigodini gold baron shot a man who was part of a nine-man gang armed with axes, machetes, spears and knives that allegedly attempted to attack him.
In November 2016, an alleged ringleader of one of the gangs of gold panners was hospitalised after his right foot was chopped off in a gang fight over a mining claim in Filabusi.
The suspect who was facing charges of assaulting police officers, had been released from remand prison a few days earlier.
He and his gang allegedly attacked police officers in a bid to force them to release robbery suspects.
The gang allegedly damaged a police vehicle and deflated its tyres with Okapi knives.
In September 2015, a gold panner was found dead on a railway line at Mbalabala in Umzingwane District with residents alleging he was killed and thrown onto the track.
Residents said fierce fights among the panners are now common in Esigodini.