A NOW DAILY Investigation
- Illegal gold miners.
When Edias ‘Chimoto’ Shumba bought a car recently, his colleagues were surprised. The senior security guard at the defunct government mine, Sabi Gold, had not earned his full salary of $200 for two years. Since the mine closed in 2013 after creditors seized its assets over a ‘minor’ debt of $2 million, its workers have become destitute and desperate. Not Shumba.
As the head of a criminal syndicate that facilitates entry into the state mine by illegal gold hunters known as gwejas from all over Zimbabwe, the guard has become a very rich man indeed. He has also become a power unto himself and drew a rifle, threatening to shoot a Now Daily news crew that visited the mine recently to record evidence of the rot.
“Chimoto and the other guards are making a lot of money by forcing the gwejas to pay up to $20 each to enter the mine to search for gold for one night,” said a source.
When Now Daily visited the mine, there were an estimated 200 gwejas working underground at any one time. Some were said to be working in gangs of up to 50 men as a measure against the violence that flares up regularly among the gwejas over control of areas with rich deposits within the mine. We found that the police were too terrified of the brutal gold hunters to prosecute those implicated in the gold thefts, murder and violence which accompanied the illicit activities. In many cases, the police chose to join the dishonesty for personal gain.
Zimbabwe is experiencing horrific civil conflict associated with access to natural resources, especially gold, diamonds and emeralds in the southern provinces of the country.
Of great concern is the fact that the huge proceeds of this illegal mineral extraction are used to sponsor political party militias which traditionally commit terrible atrocities during election campaigns which are now underway ahead of the crunch 2018 presidential, legislative and municipal polls.
The story has assumed regional dimensions as the minerals extracted illegally are being smuggled by light planes through neighbouring countries and dumped onto the international market. Due to the dangers associated with this story and corruption, the mainstream media has failed to report it in any coherent way.
In the southern provinces of Zimbabwe, an unknown number of people have been killed in the so-called ‘machete wars’ where marauding bands of militiamen and women are fighting for control of closed and disused mines such as Sabi, Patchway and Jena Gold Mines. Smuggling of gold, diamonds and other minerals to South Africa is rampant and the police are not providing any information on the deaths of illegal gold miners. The government is well aware of this scandal. President Robert Mugabe confirmed publicly the existence of these smuggling syndicates but has not taken any action because senior members of his ruling party Zanu PF are involved. He has also pinpointed the Chinese, who are very active in mining in the country, of illegal dealings, hoarding and illegally exporting currency. However, because of the bilateral and trade relationship between Harare and Beijing, Mugabe is careful not to pursue any meaningful action against wayward Chinese business people. He was hosted by Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing in January 2017, in response to a visit to Harare by Xi in December 2015.
Of greater concern, however, is the use of the proceeds of illegal resource extraction to influence political processes. Some big names in the political arena are involved in this scandal. Due to the dangers associated with this story and the influential politicians, cabinet ministers, government officials, army generals, intelligence officers and top business people involved in this racket, the mainstream media in Zimbabwe has shied away from this story.
The government says it is concerned about the haphazard mining and leakages of precious minerals. Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa said the country was targeting revenues of $1 billion from and a similar amount from gold.
“If we get $1 billion from diamonds and another $1 billion from gold we will be home and dry,” Chidhakwa said.
The country needs the money desperately. A huge government salary and wage bill occasioned by the induction of party militants and activists into the police and other security services means the authorities cannot always pay their workers on time, resulting in rampant corruption.
- Sleeping on duty: a Zimbabwean cop.
Now Daily saw cops openly taking bribes. Members of the minerals and border patrol unit were engaged in a racket in which they collected bribes from gold dealers in exchange for protection.
Several cops were seen collecting ‘protection fees’ from the gold boomtown’s most notorious racketeers. Detectives from the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s Central Investigations Department in the Midlands province were found to be pocketing hundreds of dollars daily from the illegal transactions. Residents of the town demonstrated against corrupt police officers in the town in 2016 and were planning more demos to demand the removal of the district police commander.
Among those implicated are detective sergeants who were found to have received cash bribes. One detective was seen by witnesses receiving kickbacks from an illegal gold dealer in the town who is known to smuggle the mineral to South Africa. The exchange happened at the dealer’s bar, where the gold dealer openly smoked weed in the presence of police and sometimes asked them to roll it for him while being entertained by women dancing naked. The criminal boasted that the police would never arrest him as he was their ‘paymaster’.
- Billion dollar man: Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa.
Several detectives were seen entering the compound of another illegal gold dealer in an official car to collect bribes. The dealer told an undercover Now Daily reporter that he was paying police officers $50 daily to avoid being arrested for illegal gold deals.
“What we do is both legal and illegal,” the man said said. “If you don’t pay the police they can always find a charge against you, so we always have money ready to give them.”
Zimbabwean police are reputed to be the third most corrupt force in Africa, only surpassed by those in Nigeria and Egypt, according to an Afrobarometer survey. Zimbabwe was recently ranked by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, pegged at number 154 out of 176 countries, with number one being the least corrupt. Weakness in law enforcement is seen as a major driver of the problem.
However, the government’s failure to bring thousands of small miners into the formal system is blamed for the problems.
Mugabe has come under fire from MPs after giving a patently false statement claiming that the government had obtained half a billion dollars for the small-scale miners.
The president told Parliament during his state of the nation address in 2016 that the purported $500 million Chinese loan would be used to boost gold production by ‘gwejas’.
Mugabe’s lies became apparent when angry MPs confronted his relative, mines and mineral development minister Walter Chidhakwa, accusing him of lying to the president. Chidhakwa denied ever telling Mugabe that loan funds had been found for the gwejas, a special constituency for the ruling party made up mostly of unemployed Zanu PF militiamen and women.
“I know nothing about a $500 million facility,” Chidhakwa said in response to a question from Binga North MP Prince Sibanda.
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