Cletus Mushanawani, Harare Bureau
HOME Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe has warned politicians sponsoring machete gangs that the law will be applied on everyone regardless of social standing with police arresting more than 5 000 people in eight months for offences ranging from illegal mining to possession of dangerous weapons.
Addressing a press conference in Harare yesterday after a meeting with his deputy, Cde Mike Madiro, police commanders and officials from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, Minister Kazembe said the issue of machete gangs was now worrisome and a serious security threat.
Under an operation dubbed “No To Anarchy by Artisanal Miners” police have since March arrested 3 471 people for possessing dangerous weapons among them machetes, while 1 549 illegal artisanal miners were also arrested across the country.
The biggest number of illegal artisanal miners was arrested in Matabeleland North with 546 offenders nabbed, while the least number was arrested in Bulawayo where 27 were accounted for.
Midlands had 219 arrests, Harare (200), Mashonaland West (186), Matabeleland South (147), Mashonaland Central (83), Mashonaland East (53), Masvingo (46) and Manicaland (42).
A number of deaths have been reported in mining areas, while rape cases are also said to be on the increase.
“We have met with our Mines and Mining Development Ministry counterparts and the police commanders today to discuss the topical issues of the machete wielding gangs.
“The media is awash with stories of machete gang wars and this is worrisome to us as we want peace and security to prevail.”
“Everyone has a role to play in this fight against illegal activities. Politicians, church leaders, individuals and Zimbabweans at large should all come together in fighting this scourge. The law will not be applied selectively in dealing with illegal activities regardless of one’s social standing including politicians,” said Minister Kazembe.
“We will continue with the raids because we are saying Zimbabwe is open for business. We cannot attract investors if law and order is not prevailing in the country. We have moved a gear up in the raids as these issues are of a security threat.”
He said they were also doubling efforts to bring sanity in all areas across the country. “The arrests made so far are evidence that police are on the ground dealing with this issue. We will continue working with other security arms so that this issue is addressed once and for all. We will also work with those tasked with protecting the environment so that the environmental damage is also addressed,” the Minister said.
National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, said the arrest of the illegal artisanal miners was an ongoing process under the operation dubbed “No To Anarchy by Artisanal Miners”.
“We have identified 260 panning sites across the country where police carry out constant raids as some of these areas are now havens for criminal activities like murder, robbery, assaults and rape.
“Those found in possession of dangerous weapons like machetes and iron bars will not be spared in the arrests. Arrests are being made across the country especially in areas where there are mining disputes,” he said.
Asst Comm Nyathi urged people to follow proper procedures in registering claims with the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development.
“No-one should take the law into his or her hands regardless of political standing. Law and order will certainly prevail and Government wants peace in the country and as the police, it is our duty to guarantee this peace. The sanctity of human life should be respected.
“We recorded a recent death in Inyathi, Bubi District, Matabeleland North when a gang of about 50 illegal artisanal miners attacked other miners on Sunday and Monday and this is not acceptable,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
Minister of State for Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs, Minister Richard Moyo said the machete gangs called maShurugwi were causing a reign of terror by killing, raping women and slaughtering people’s livestock. “Our people are living in fear because of the violent behaviour of the hordes of illegal gold miners who come from other districts. The guys attack locals if they find them also panning for gold.
“They are always carrying axes and machetes. They are so daring that if the gold belt is stretching to people’s homesteads, these criminals violently force them out of their homes so that they can extract the mineral,” said Minister Moyo.
He added: “We are engaging police to ensure that they increase deployment of their officers in these areas affected by the violent gold panners.”
The issue of the machete-wielding gang wars also spilled into the Senate yesterday with Zvishavane Senator, Lillian Timevous, asking the Leader of the House, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi on what Government was doing to thwart the gangs.
In response, Minister Ziyambi said: “The Home Affairs Ministry is alive to the issue. Measures are being taken and in the near future you will witness some changes on the issue pertaining these illegal activities. People should be allowed to go about their business freely without any fear of attacks from these gangsters.”