EASTERN NEWS | Blundering cops need retraining: Ex-minister

MUTARE - Former Home Affairs minister Giles Mutsekwa has blamed government’s failure to conduct routine retraining of cops as the cause of the fatal shootings of civilians in Harare last Thursday, among other blunders by the police.

Describing the cops’ lack of discretion in firing live rounds at a crowd as “shocking”, Mutsekwa told Eastern News in an exclusive interview that the incident was a symptom of government neglect.

“The most crucial thing is that it is revealing. It tells you there has been years of neglect. There have been years where investment was not made to train and retrain of our police. It has come to that state because of an uncaring government,” he said.

“I can’t imagine any trained person loading a rifle with ammunition and pointing a gun to a crowd, in a heavily populated city like Harare. It’s not done! Any basic training of anybody will tell you, you don’t do that. In actual fact, this is why we have rubber bullets,” said Mutsekwa, a retired army major.

Mutsekwa described the task the new police chief, Godwin Matanga, has in rehabilitating the police as “unenviable”.

“I feel pity for ... Matanga. He is inheriting a police force that has long lost its soul, he is inheriting a force that has completely turned into thugs and he needs to work extra hard.”

The MDC intelligence supremo and shadow Defence minister believes the commissioner-general’s work is going to be further complicated by Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu’s lack of appreciation of laws and order.

“I know Matanga, but while I have every belief in his competency and professionalism, his job is going to be made worse by the minister who was tasked to overlook the ministry of Home Affairs...Mpofu.”

Mutsekwa said Mpofu lacked both the exemplary edge and appreciation of the sector.

“You need a figure that is exemplary to lead a force or a unit that is in charge of law and order. The nation is aware of how lawless Mpofu was when he appeared before the parliamentary committee of Mines last week, how he bragged that he is above the law, how he bragged that nothing is going to happen to him…but I know you do not do that at all.”

He said such conduct should be totally alien to a minister in charge of a police force in any country.

“There is one thing you do not do in that position; you do not break rules that govern procedures of Parliament. It doesn’t matter who you are, but look at Mpofu, to him, because he has been in Parliament for over three decades, he thinks he is an untouchable.”

“And when you have a minister of that calibre, who is meant to oversee the lawfulness and orderliness of a country, then you have a very bad beginning.”

Mutsekwa said the appointment of Mpofu into government was President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s weakest point.

“I said it before that Mnangagwa’s decision to assign Mpofu to the ministry was the biggest error he has ever made. Mpofu has no clue whatsoever to understand how the ministry works.”

“The indiscipline he has displayed will cascade down the entire ministry he heads. So the attitude would be if our minister is untouchable so we must also be untouchable,” he said.

Mbuya Sauti: A saint among social outcasts

INVESTIGATED by child rights organisations for allegedly recruiting underage girls for exploitation as sex slaves — traditional healer Sophie Masikuka, 57, popularly known as Mbuya Sauti — is despised outside her circles but revered by those who know her.

Her recent marriage to 29-year-old Wellington Mabhiza triggered a social media condemnation frenzy that further alienated her from the broader eastern border city’s population.

This was more so derided as a charade as news filtered around that the “wedding ceremony” involving nocturnal rive rituals but missing both known religious and legal solemnisation as well as happening as it did before the man even paid lobola.

The couple later claimed they are yet to wed but this was just a ceremony to present their future intentions to the spirits of whom they are mediums.

“It’s like the fact that at a funeral no matter how expensive the casket is, you will still need a reed mat in fulfilment of our traditional practices. So people may not understand what we did but this is the procedure for traditional healers like ourselves.

“Our relationship needs to be approved by our mermaid spirits before we settle down. If our spirits reject it, no one will feel taken advantage of because we would not have been intimate with each other,” Mbuya Sauti explained.

While this part of her life has been exposed to the public for an intense three weeks now, she is still largely an enigma — information about her is still largely based on exaggerated excesses about how she feasts on the exploitation of child sex slaves.

Child rights organisations around the province are convinced she is a criminal who needs to be locked up.

“We were interested in verifying allegations that were being raised by children we were working with but nothing fruitful came out of it. She had some sort of immunity that we never understood,” one official said in an interview recently.

It is as if she has the law enforcement in a spell — either out of fear or because of her charms.

But there is another side to the controversial figure. One that she hardly explains to anyone and one that has had her largely misunderstood outside her environs.

Making a living as a traditional healer and herbalist in and behind the Sakubva main bus terminus, she is one of the most popular individuals in Sakubva’s Chineta suburb where she owns two houses.

She is probably the most trusted individual around. And perhaps most loved.

While there may be debate around her marriage, opinion is unanimous around her welfare and philanthropic activities.

Any child who arrives in the city alone and on a bus is often thrown into her care until guardians are found.

“Recently, there is a young boy who arrived on a bus from Honde Valley. The little boy said he just jumped onto the bus because he wanted to know what it felt like being on a bus and he was brought to me for care. While I had to do everything to look for his parents who came after some days and I handed them their child,” Mbuya Sauti recounts.

This is just one of many such tales.

Children who were orphaned and abandoned in Sakubva or who would run away from their rural homes to the city fleeing abuse would often find themselves under her care.

Children have emerged from under her who have been both good and delinquent. But focus has largely been placed to her only taking in girls, something she disputes.

“I have cared for over 3 000 children since they have started coming to my doorstep. I don’t turn anyone away. Where would they go? I have only had a few girls but it’s been mostly boys. Girls are a problem,” Mbuya Sauti explains.

But she loves them all the same. Currently, her ‘‘youngest child’’ is a six-year-old girl doing Grade One at Chisamba Primary School.

“I raised this child’s mother, who was also an orphan. Unfortunately, she was impregnated with the man declining responsibility.

“She later met a man who wanted to marry her but didn’t want her child. She just dumped her child at the bus terminus and went away. Her friend took the child to me for care,” she says, revealing how the child’s mother later died following an accident.

“I went to see her after the accident and told her that I had taken her child and she would get her back as soon as she was discharged from hospital but she did not make it.”

What pained her most though was that the young lady — and at heart her daughter — got a pauper’s burial because she was never informed of her death in time.

“When I went to see her, the nurses were so hostile towards me and I thought I needed to stay away from her so that she could at least get some proper medical care because I didn’t want their opinion about me to affect her,” she explained.

She denies that she ever fixed boyfriends to any of her “daughters”.

“Do you think I’ll be normal to raise this child from infancy then look for men to abuse her for money?” she queried.

Mbuya Sauti said she knew many organisations have been investigating her activities but have failed to find fault with her.

“About 10 years ago, the department of Social Welfare raided my home and took all the children and sent them back to their districts and reunited some of them with their families but others were just placed in institutions.

“Right now, some of them have turned 18 and cannot stay in the institutions and have been released and some have come back here because this is the place they consider home.”

This group includes a young man called Innocent.

“I was being taken care of by Zaoga after we were removed from Gogo’s care by the department of Social Welfare and the police but since I’m an adult now, they couldn’t continue to care for me,” Innocent, who doesn’t know any of his relatives, said.

For him, and hundreds more, Mbuya Sauti is a saint — though an unlikely philanthropist, she has helped many children find hope after rejection.

“What I’ve realised is that all the children who have come to me for shelter and food are children who are coming from broken homes.

“Step-parents have largely been terrible with children from the stories children I’ve cared for tell me,” she says.

The HIV and Aids epidemic, which left a trail of orphans, has been a major contributor to the crisis of children spewing onto the streets and ending up at her door-step.

“HIV and Aids destroyed homes and children were left without anyone to care for them. It was terrible at the turn of the millennium.”

Her claims to sainthood are, however, spoiled by her failure to fully care for the children by getting every child who came to her to school, giving them room to wander the streets by day.

She, however, said even though she has had to care for two generations of children, she would not accept to care for children that the girls she raised would have given birth to while they did as they pleased.

“That would be to promote prostitution. If they need help, I’ll give them a room where they would stay with their child and I wouldn’t assume the responsibility to take care of the child in their absence.”

Another of her problem is the fact that she has been welcoming commercial sex workers to rent rooms at her houses, giving them the stigma of being brothels.

“Unlike other people, I do not discriminate who rents at my properties. I accept traditional leaders and commercial sex workers. I have no problem with other human beings trying to find shelter.

“This way, you can then help them change if you think they are lost instead of shutting them out.”

Mbuya Sauti says she has helped many commercial sex workers leave the profession and find homes.

“Some women I’ve accommodated have managed to start a decent life and found marriage.”

Eastern Highlands tops tourism awards

Eastern Highlands scored big at the recent Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT) annual Tourism Achievers’ Awards, after it snapped up three prestigious accolades.

Far and Wide won the innovation award for its Mtarazi Falls zip line and sky walk, as well as the tourism business of the year, while Chimanimani Tourist Association (CTA) won the environmental awareness and action award for its campaign against the illegal and destructive mining activities taking place in the Chimanimani National Park.

The Tourism Achievers’ Awards ceremony, held at Cresta Lodge in Harare last Thursday, was graced by hundreds of travel and tour operators, government officials and media personalities.

Speaking at the event, Tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira, pictured, said Zimbabwe has diverse tourism products that give the sector potential, even to contribute 50 percent to the country’s GDP.

“This is something we should emulate, and I am sure I speak on behalf of all of us when I say Zimbabwe has the potential to foster exponential growth in tourism, a potential that requires elimination of obstacles and a commitment to providing infrastructural development necessary to allow for such growth,” said Mupfumira.

Mtarazi Falls’ zip line and skywalk have cleared a major frustration visitors to Africa’s highest waterfall have always had — a lack of a vantage point to view the waterfall.

Beyond viewing the falls, part of the package offered by Far and Wide includes team building activities and challenging nature trails in the Honde and Nyanga mountain ranges, which has seen visitors flocking to the area from across the globe.

CTA vice chairperson Collin Sibanda said he was humbled by the recognition.

“This award is for the people of Chimanimani who are keeping the mountains in custody, not only for future generations, but the world in its entirety,” he said.

Illegal syndicates have been pillaging gold in Chimanimani Mountains — digging up springs, poisoning water sources with mercury and spoiling national heritage sites like rock paintings, while scaring off tourists from some sections of the mountain range.

At the peak of the country’s tourism industry, Chimanimani Mountains received the second highest number of tourists after Victoria Falls, but was largely cut off from the other areas because visitors could only access it by road with the nearest airport over 400km away.

This dead period, Sibanda said, allowed illegal gangs to take over the tourist attraction and began poaching and illegal mining.

“We are confident that Chimanimani is back in the limelight and people will be reminded on what they are missing out on by not coming.

“The police have now normalised their traffic enforcement duties and there are plans to have an airport in Mutare, which all combines to win back our status as a tourist destination of note,” Sibanda added.


Allied Timbers unveils tree planting programme

State-run forestry company, Allied Timbers, has launched an aggressive tree-planting programme to be sustained over the next 10 years, as part of government’s efforts to replenish commercial exotic species.

Under the programme, 6 000 hectares will be reafforestated every year.

The company, which has nine estates of mostly pine trees across the eastern highlands and eucalyptus in Penhalonga and Mvuma, launched the programme at Erin Forest in Nyanga this week.

This comes as the timber producer suffered losses due to fires and illegal settlements that cost the whole industry millions.

In a statement, the company said: “This programme will enable future generations to continue harvesting and planting as it takes 25 years for pine trees and 15 years for eucalyptus to be harvested”.

The challenges of illegal settlements and fires saw the industry’s employment fall.

Timber Producers Federation 2013 figures showed that employment figures fell from over 9 000 in 2009 to just 5 018 — a 45 percent tumble in just five years.

Permanent employees were a mere 3 553 whereas in 2009, Allied Timbers alone employed more than that.

The major cause of the crisis are illegal settlers, with 7 256 of the almost 83 hectares of planted commercial forests under illegal occupation by 187 families.

Due to the illegal settlers challenge, the industry was harvesting only about 600 000 cubic metres, way below sustainable levels compared to a capacity to cut up to 1,8 million cubic metres annually.

The company said although in 2013 players produced more than any other year since 2009, the industry is struggling due to depressed prices and liquidity challenges.

Chimanimani’s illegal miners dilemma

Opinion is divided over gold mining in Allied Timbers’ Tarka Forest.

For two decades, illegal artisanal miners have maintained a stranglehold on the commercial forest — disrupting operations and causing extensive environmental damage.

Government has been indecisive. The conflict between the illegal mining and commercial interests has been dragging at a heavy cost to the economy.

The illegal artisanal miners have become overly aggressive.

With the area having been rehabilitated, illegal gold miners have evolved their mining engineering from panning to something more efficient but frighteningly more destructive to the environment — hydraulic mining.

From carrying bags of gold ore to water sources and panning for the alluvial gold deposits, they are now diverting streams to areas with alluvial deposit traces, eroding the whole mountainsides into a tapestry of man-made streams which in turn run through makeshift gem-sorting stalls which then trap gold nuggets.

This system has been fascinating Njabulo Chipangura, a curator of archaeology at Mutare Museum and a PhD candidate in Anthropology at South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand, who has been documenting such indigenous mining engineering techniques.

He notes that such adaptable small-scale mining techniques have been the reason artisanal miners have been so effective.

“What they do in mining is a skill and a technique which cannot be unparalleled from any other skill that large-scale miners are using. That skill and that technique must be recognised…

“This is the reason the RBZ is calling Makorokoza the heroes of Zimbabwe’s economy because they are bringing much more than what large-scale miners are bringing to the table.

“Gem sorters run gold ore slurry using raffled or tattered blankets to capture the gold… so this ruffled blanket technique is similar to a normal commercial gem stable which also highlights the important indigenous knowledge systems that these guys have,” Chipangura said.

Manicaland Small-Scale Miners Association official Lovemore Kasha said the gem-sorters were imitating James’ table, which was designed by a British engineer who came to Zimbabwe.

“They just make sure that the strength of the currency is strong enough to wash away the gold and not the denser gold which would then be trapped by the blanket,” Kasha explained.

But while the artisanal mining engineering ingenuity is a marvel, its trade-off with the environment is unreasonably high.

The debate, however, arises from whether the illegal artisanal miners should simply be kicked out and the area rehabilitated by Allied Timbers for a resumption of its exotic forest activities — with the attendant risk of illegal gold panners returning or the annexure of the affected areas for sustainable formalised mining over a specific period before reclamation and return to agricultural use.

As it stands, government has largely failed to keep the illegal miners out due to a combination of corrupt law enforcement agents and a populace being forced into the government-owned plantation by grinding poverty.

The environment has been the biggest loss in the process.

The land was torn up to devastating effect on the environment — all in pursuit of gold.

The biggest problem is directly related to the gold-mining technology at use.

When the gold rush began at the turn of the millennium gold diggers were using perhaps the simplest small-scale gold extraction method — panning.

In this method, a pan is filled with placer dirt, and then it is submerged in still water.

While underwater the contents of the pan are kneaded with both hands until all the clay has dissolved and the lumps of dirt are thoroughly broken.

Stones and pebbles are also picked out. Then the pan is held flat and shaken under water to permit the valuable mineral to settle to the bottom, and, in a series of quick motions, the pan is tilted and raised repeatedly until the lighter top material is washed off and only the valuable heavy mineral is left.

Though labour-intensive, it gave them rich pickings as the area had legendary concentrations of alluvial deposits famed to be 98 percent pure.

Over the years it has been increasingly difficult to get the precious metal and they have been evolving their mining methods to match their desperation.

About five years ago, some artisanal miners from Penhalonga moved from Mutare River to Chimanimani importing riverbed hydraulic sluicing methods.

“There are some guys who came from Mutare and started diverting streams and making these ovens (gem-sorters) and it’s not as labour intensive as panning as people would carry sacks of gold ore over long distances in this rough terrain,” John Ngorima said as he reaps his hoes repeatedly along a diverted stream to erode the soil through a gem-sorter 10 metres away.

A tour of the estate revealed a shocking proliferation of this form of artisanal mining with huge tracts of the forest heavily gullied. Some roads are now completely impassable by heavy trucks as the panners create makeshift log bridges to hide their destruction after cutting across roads.

This method has had a more devastating effect on riparian natural environment and agricultural systems.

Entire mountainsides are being considered as mounds of gold ore and the approach is to process it all.

And this, through the gruesome rudimentary hydraulic gold mining process of washing out entire hillsides through hundreds of small makeshift sluicing gem sorters.

Millions of tonnes of top soil have been washed out damning rivers which have now been perennially red with the fertile soils.

With ecosystems difficult to value in economic terms there can never be telling the total cost.

Surface mining may already be an extreme land use practice that undermines agriculture the illegal artisanal miners are threatening to completely wash out over 600 hectares causing permanent woodland loss.

Mining concerns have also been allocated claims in the affected area but they all do not have complete documentation to start work and perhaps reclaim the environment thereafter with Environmental Management Agency (EMA) allegedly sitting on some environmental impact assessment reports for years.

But the issues are complex.

EMA itself maintains that it is alarmed by the levels of environmental degradation under the reign of illegal panners who they want stopped.

“We cannot prescribe the way forward on the issue but our concern is that whatever government decides be it forestry or mining, it has to be done in a sustainable way unlike what is currently obtaining on the ground at the moment,” EMA provincial manager Kingstone Chitotombe told Eastern News.

The government agency which has been running losing battles with the illegal gold diggers has previously suggested a multi-stakeholders approach to the issue.

“The level at which the matter is demands a multi-stakeholder intervention, involving forestry commission, timber companies, ourselves and ZRP,” Chitotombe said in a previous interview after leading a tour of the area with journalists.

Timber Producers Federation (TPF) has, however, been digging in on the need to keep mining operations out of designated timber estates.

Zimbabwe’s total timber plantations measure 85 000 hectares, which they say is not even enough to supply the country’s timber needs as it were although the country’s Mines and Minerals Act enjoys supremacy over all other laws.

Mining which contributes the bulk of Zimbabwe’s over $3 billion annual export earnings has been lauded as a quick economic fix while timber has largely been in decline over the years due to competing interests over their spaces ranging from illegal mining to State-sponsored illegal settlements.

While mining is carried out throughout the country, commercial forestry is more commercially viable in Manicaland province and TPF has been pushing to allow the plantations to flourish.

TPF CEO Darlington Duwa said while government can decide to allow mining in the area it would not be a decision they would be happy with.

“If government says companies can mine then fair and fine. We will only comment on the decision but we obviously would prefer keeping the area under timber,” Duwa said.

But the challenge with Tarka is that even if the illegal panners are pushed back and trees are planted, the illegal panners will soon return and resume their illegal operations unless they believe that the resources have been exhausted.

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