Now Daily Investigation
“I wish I could leave this business,” says Dzikamai*, a dangerous-looking hood with a fresh wound on his face, just above the left eye, rolling a ‘twist’ of marijuana and staring me in the eye, trying to figure out if I’m not a cop.
“I was hit by a machete. Bothy’s crew didn’t want to kill me. They just ‘slapped’ me with a machete as a warning and told me to leave the mine,” he says.
A ‘slap’, he explains, is when a machete is applied at an angle so as to cut the skin but avoid hitting the bone and making a fatal blow. And he tells me that Bothy is a gangster who recently held the police to a two-week siege of the defunct state-owned Sabi Gold Mine, which has been taken over by hundreds of illegal gold hunters from as far afield as Mozambique.
Dzikamai has become an inadvertent machete warrior. He was one of hundreds of gwejas – illegal gold hunters – who recently spent two weeks underground at Sabi mine, unable to leave, with armed riot police milling outside. The cops were trying to retrieve the body of a man who had been cut to pieces by machetes by other gwejas and buried in the mine. During the recent siege, the gwejas cooked sadza and drank musombodia, a banned, toxic alcoholic drink that tends to make one violent.
Said Dzikamai: “If you don’t fight the other gwejas will just take your gold or prevent you from mining. There is always a long queue to mine in the gold-rich areas but I never wait in the queue. I know how to fight using my machete. I tie it around my hand so that it doesn’t fall off, then I attack the enemy, aiming for the face.”
A large number of illegal gold hunters have been killed in the fighting, pitting various groups, mainly the so-called Kadoma, Mazvihwa and Four Miles gangs. The fights in the goldfields often spill into bars and nearby homes as the gwejas fight for prostitutes and continue with disputes over the precious mineral beyond the mines.
So vicious is the fighting that the police on Monday went around the gold-rich town of Zvishavane imploring the gwejas to stop fighting and warning the public to stay out of their vicious feuds. But the police are seen as part of the problem by both civilians and combatants. Corrupt officers are responsible for the chaos that now dominates the goldfields as they take bribes and allow illegal mining to continue, say sources. Some cops are now in syndicates with the gold hunters.
Vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s name has been mentioned among buyers and sponsors of illegal mining and smuggling of gold to South Africa. President Robert Mugabe recently accused South African whites of using small planes to smuggle gold out of Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa is accused of using white businessmen like Billy Rautenbach to disguise his alleged illegal dealings.
Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya last week addressed a conference of small-scale gold miners, imploring them to obey the law. However, the machete-wielding gwejas like Bothy are all too ready to defy the law.
The situation is compounded by the presence of hardened illegal miners who fled army killings in the Marange diamond fields in Manicaland. ‘Taliban’ is one such man. Having fled the army violence in the Marange/Chiadzwa, he says he has seen the worst and will not hesitate to use his machete against anyone who tries to stop him here.
As for Dzikamai, the fighting continues.
“I will only stop illegal mining when I have filled two buckets with gold,” he says.
*Some names have been changed to protect the identities of victims.
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