Raymond Jaravaza, Saturday Chronicle Correspondent
GOGO Martha Mlotshwa swears that she has never seen so much blood in her 75 years of existence.
At her age, she has seen it all — the good, the bad and the worst of humanity but the level of violence she has witnessed in the last two months makes the old woman wonder what this world is turning into.
About two months ago, her 23-year-old grandson barged into her kitchen hut shaken, scared and trembling. He looked like he had seen a ghost, or worse, says Gogo Mlotshwa.
His friend and colleague, an artisanal miner, had been attacked with a machete and was battling for life.
It’s an incident that Gogo Mlotshwa says still gives her goosebumps when she talks about it, two months after it happened. A war is brewing in the Nkankezi area. Rival amakorokoza (artisanal miners) groups are at each other’s throats, fighting over the right to mine in the gold rich area of Filabusi District and local villagers like Gogo Mlotshwa are bearing the brunt of witnessing the violence and mayhem.
Their children and grandchildren are losing limbs, blood is being spilt and the villagers are living in fear.
“My grandson ran into the kitchen where I was preparing supper, trembling and nearly collapsed into the fire. He said his friend had been attacked by a group of amakorokoza who wanted to work in the mine shaft where my grandson and his friends were working.
“The boys ran in different directions but unfortunately one of them was attacked with a machete several times and the attackers just left him lying in a pool of blood.
“I have never seen so much blood in life. It was terrifying when we got there. The attackers had disappeared, leaving the boy to die alone in the bush,” narrated Gogo Mlotshwa.
The attackers are alleged to be a group of amakorokoza from Nkayi who came to the Nkankezi area in search of gold. The village where Gogo Mlotshwa lives is barely two kilometres from one of the many places where amakorokoza are digging for the precious mineral.
The locals don’t like it when “foreigners” invade their space hence the fight with rival groups from places such as Nkayi who also want a piece of the cake. Fighting is now common in these mining areas and most of the groups are using dangerous weapons such as machetes.
“We don’t mind if they come here and work in peace and not attack our children. We have engaged the police who at times go to the pits and arrest troublemakers. The people that attacked my grandson’s friend have never been arrested but we thank God that he survived and is now recovering at his brother’s home in Mawabeni,” she said.
The attack on his friend traumatised Gogo Mlotshwa’s grandson that he abandoned mining, the only source of livelihood that he had known since he was 17 years old. He has relocated to South Africa.
The fight over “mining rights” knows no boundaries but what is evident is that it is being sponsored by well-to-do individuals who frequent the Nkankezi area to buy the gold from amakorokoza.
Off-road vehicles criss-cross the muddy roads leading to Gogo Mlotshwa’s village and one would be forgiven to assume that Nkankezi is a city where the rich and famous reside. Yet it’s just a normal rural area with multiple villages that are surrounded by gold deposits.
The gold deposits which are supposed to be a blessing for the locals, have unfortunately become a curse because of the violence being witnessed daily.
One artisanal miner said many gold buyers frequent the place in search of the precious mineral.
“They buy the gold for about US$55 per gramme and to make sure that we remain loyal to one buyer, they buy us food and alcohol before we go down into the mining shafts. Some of them come from as far as Bulawayo and Beitbridge and as you can see, they drive very big and nice cars,” says the miner.
Further down Gogo Mlotshwa’s village is another mining area that sits on the edges of a mountain. The place looks deserted but mining equipment such as compressors, picks and shovels are all over.
A villager tells us that amakorokoza spend the day drinking and only work at night.
The Saturday Chronicle crew drove to Nkankezi Shopping Centre where we had been told that most of the amakorokoza spend their money there.
The shopping centre is a hive of activity.
Bars are full of young men who are spending their hard-earned cash on alcohol.
One lady mistakes us for gold buyers and offers us a room in case we needed overnight accommodation.
The room is charged US$5 per night.
“If you need a room for the night, I can organise one for you. Food is also available for US$2 for a plate of isitshwala and meat including a soft drink as well,” says the lady who introduces herself as Thoko.
It’s evident that gold mining drives the local Nkankezi economy and the presence of the precious mineral is welcome by the local businesspeople who operate bars, clothing shops, overnight accommodation and restaurants.
If only the violence that comes with artisanal mining could end, villagers like Gogo Mlotshwa would live in peace and also enjoy the benefits of gold mining, a source of livelihood for their children and grandchildren.
Acting Matabeleland South police spokesman Assistant Inspector Thandolwenkosi Moyo said while the police have not received specific cases of violence amongst artisanal miners, law enforcement officers have of late dealt with numerous assault cases involving miners in the Filabusi District. – @RaymondJaravaza.