EASTERN NEWS | SA gold rush torments community

MUTARE - An increasing number of people from the Rusitu community is being lured into illicit and dangerous gold mining in South Africa (SA), where many have died while some have disappeared.

Known as Zama Zamas, the daring illegal gold miners, who enter active mines through hidden holes that access underground shafts and would exit by handing themselves over to mine security, spend around six months in prison before they are released.

Rusitu Valley has hundreds of desperate unemployed young men who have been forced to troop down to SA in search of greener pastures.

Reports of mine accidents there always leave the community in distress. And often, many locals would arrive back in body bags.

According to locals, the gas explosion in May at Harmony Gold’s Eland Mine in Welkom, Free State left at least 10 Zimbabweans from Chipinge and Chimanimani districts dead.

And many more are murdered in the dangerous practice.

The locals said many never make it back home, even as corpses.

Stella Mwareya told the Daily News that a number of parents and relatives here live in constant distress whenever their children leave for the SA gold lure.

“ . . . they are also afraid that their children may be murdered,” she said.

“We have been burying murdered young men at least once every month from Muchadziya, down in Vumba to Mutsvangwa amid rumours that some of the locals were actually behind some of the murders,” Mwareya claimed.

The Daily News crew came across a Zama Zama who had just arrived back home from a three-month South African jail stint after mining underground for six months.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog scenario back in SA. If you make too much money in the mine and your colleagues or handlers know of it, you never make it out alive or you are robbed as soon as you get the money,” said the Zama Zama, who only referred to himself as Blessing for fear of victimisation.

“The problem is that the threat comes from those who are known to you, as they would know exactly how much you would be having,” he said.

He said the syndicates — who would arrange the smuggling of the gold and food supplies into and out of the mines — would only allow one to be underground for a minimum three months because they would be guaranteed that you would have earned enough to offset their costs in getting you from wherever into the country and mine.

“It’s mostly Zimbabweans and Mozambicans that I worked with together with a few South Africans and some from Swaziland and Lesotho,” Blessing said.

He said two of his brothers were also holed up in the mines — one for 18 months and the other for eight months.

“We stay in touch by writing text messages on a cellphone that is brought once every two weeks down a small shaft.

“Since there is no network underground, the message will only be sent when the cellphone is taken back to the surface in a basket. They would return with the reply after two weeks,” Blessing said with a chuckle at the slow rate of communication.

He said there are underground “cities” with everything, except sunlight.

“There are drugs, alcohol and even prostitutes,” he said with a chuckle, adding that but going down is not fun, as “we would often slide for hundreds of metres into the underground mines on steel poles”.

“At times, you would want to give up as you go down, but that will be the end. Some, however, do fall to their death and are never recovered,” Blessing said.

Another Zama Zama, Maxwell Muganga, who plans to return to the mine after a two-year break, said once in, they would work with recognised middle men.

“After you make a certain amount, you will have to leave the mine. You would be empty-handed as you would have been sending out the gold through the middle-men. So the safest route will be to hand yourself over to mine security at the official exit,” he said.

He said the security would then hand you over to the police, leading to arrest and at least six months in prison.

“South African jails are good and they would certainly be way more comfortable than the holes you would have been,” Muganga said.

Blessing concurred with Muganga, saying staying in SA prison was a small price to pay considering the comforts one would then enjoy when they leave jail to collect their pay cheques.

It is also the reason that keep young boys in Rusitu with a firm resolve to joining the trek down South as soon as they are old enough.

The Zama Zamas practice has been costly to the South African economy, with the country’s Chamber of Mines saying more than $150 million was lost to this practice between 1999 and 2004.


Underage girls fall victim to artisanal miners

ILLEGAL artisanal miners, who have invaded Chimanimani’s Tarka Forest in a gold rush that has been sustained over the past decade, are preying on and abusing underage girls in nearby communities, the Daily News has established.

Some desperate and gullible parents have even been complicit in the practice, giving away their daughters in return for bride price.

Local schools have reported high drop outs by girls due to pregnancies, particularly at the peak of the gold rush, at the turn of the millennium.

Residents in the community bemoaned to the Daily News that the gold rush had destroyed many young girls’ lives, and the community had been struggling to keep the girl child in school.

“The gold discovery has been a curse to the girl-child. At one point, we lost over 30 girls from Makumbura Secondary School in the 2000s. The number never really fell, even today,” Joshua Hlabiso, a local, said.

He said while the gold rush saw even locals who were in the army deserting and boys dropping out of school to focus on panning, “girls were clearly the biggest losers”.

“Some girls have joined the gold rush. But most of the girls are failing to resist the lure of cash from the thousands of young men who flood our communities and we are taking care of as our tenants,” he said.

Senzia Mhondera, another local, said even young boys and girls from the same class would get married as soon as they felt they had a source of income in the illegal gold panning activities.

“Some of our girls are not only being abused by outsiders . . . even their own schoolmates and classmates would elope as soon as they thought they had made some money,” Mhondera said.

In most cases, many girls are just impregnated and dumped, as the artisanal miners return back to their areas of origin and families.

“It is really sad that some poor girls were just abused and deserted. There are many children who do not even know the true identity of their fathers and the social consequences will stay with us for generations to come,” one Lovemore Njobo added.

Before the gold rush, the community depended on agriculture for its livelihood.

Nothing could have prepared them for such an impact either, noted Sustainable Environmental Conservation Trust director Moses Chimedza.

“Everyone was dazzled by the glitter of gold. From struggling in the fields and orchards, they had a chance for quick money and there was no time to organise themselves against the negative social impact of the thousands of illegal artisanal gold panners,” he said.


Giant chicken abattoir for Mutare

LOCAL poultry farmers here are set to unveil a $120 000 chicken abattoir within the next three months, the Manicaland Poultry Association (MPA) has announced.

This comes as the Zimbabwe’s poultry industry has been rocked by an Avian Influenza outbreak, resulting in an acute chicken and table eggs shortage.

MPA chairperson Enock Mbendani said they have been working on the project — targeted at promoting economic growth in the city — for more than a year.

“We are mechanising and the abattoir should be open in two to three months for local informal breeders so that they gain access to the formal market,” he said.

He said while the abattoir had capacity to process 8 000 chickens a day, they were expecting to start at 3 000.

“It can also be upgraded from that 8 000 to a much bigger figure, if chicken supplies improve across the province,” Mbendani said.

He said although the Avian Influenza virus had dampened the sector, with a shortage of day-old chicks expected to stretch for the next six months, he remained optimistic that the business would take off successfully.

The abattoir project comes as most farmers in the province, especially informal, are unable to penetrate the formal markets.

Many poultry producers are on the verge of collapse, with most opting out due to viability problems.

“Poultry farmers have decided to unite and work on the abattoir in light of the challenges we have been facing in accessing the formal market which was now threatening the viability of most of our farmers,” said Mbendani.

He said MPA was also helping farmers in sourcing drugs and feeds, as it is often proving difficult for most individual farmers.



We never met Moyo: MDC women

THE MDC women’s assembly has scoffed at media claims that Thokozani Khupe and other senior officials met independent presidential hopeful Nkosana Moyo in South Africa last Thursday.

Speaking in Mutare, the women’s wing honcho — Lynette Karenyi — dismissed the report as a feeble attempt to besmirch her name and destabilise the party, saying this was not going to distract her from pushing to make sure that Zanu PF is defeated in the next elections.

“The enemy will not win because I love my party and will remain loyal and work hard to remove the regime from power. With the Mhou nemhuru yayo programme, the regime will definitely go,” Karenyi said.

She said she actually went to collect her children from school before going to church on the purported day.

Karenyi said she was not authorised to speak on behalf of the party or her party vice president on the reports.

“I’m otherwise focused on recruiting more women and youths to register to vote and vote resoundingly for the MDC come 2018,” she said.

According to reports, Khupe was alleged to be engaged in talks with Moyo, who recently launched his Alliance for People’s Agenda and announced plans to stand for presidency in 2018’s elections.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s deputy is reportedly at qualms over the handling of the party’s coalition with other parties, particularly those that only have strength in the Matabeleland region, where MDC is also strong.

Recently, Khupe was assaulted by suspected MDC youths during a meeting to discuss the MDC alliance in Bulawayo after skipping a signing ceremony in Harare.

Tsvangirai, who instituted an enquiry into the assault and suspended some of his party’s senior members including Tabitha Khumalo, however, said their findings were going to be discussed by the standing committee. 

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