Inside Mazowe’s blood gold

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Like nocturnal owls, illegal miners wait for the dark to start their hunt for gold

Problem Masau

With its green scenery, thick vegetation, enchanting landscape and rich soils, Mazowe district is one of the most beautiful areas in Zimbabwe.

Located in a mountainous area that gives the ever-green district an imposing feature, the expanse that sandwiches a lake, provides a mystic view good for wildlife conservation and game ranging.

However, it is the gold that is found in the district which is proving to be the attraction. Sadly, it has become a ‘curse’ threatening both human life and the environment.

Just eight kilometers from Mazowe town at Jumbo Mine, six youths with deep cuts on their bodies  survived a terror attack from a group of armed men who fear no one including the gun-wielding police in the vicinity.

For a while, a clique of rogue artisanal gold miners, popularly known as Mashurugwi, have been on a rampage attacking other miners underground, confiscating their gold ore.

But now the tables are turning as the other panners are revenging, meting instant justice on the terror group.

“They were attacking and grabbing our gold ore while we were underground. They use machetes and its now our turn,” said Elias Kambara, one of the gold miners wiping his sweaty face with his right hand.

After a while, the six are bundled in a truck and vanish with the police. They are lucky to be alive because death is a common occurrence at the mine. In May this year, eight miners were killed after rivals set off explosives in search of rich gold veins.

Corruption, extortion, prostitution, sex, violence and informal trading characterize Jumbo Mine. The police patrol the area, but they are the de facto ‘mafia bosses’ who run different syndicates.

“We pay police officers US$15 each when we want to go underground. They are the big bosses here; they collect their dues under the cover of darkness,” said one gold miner.

While the police’s command is to prevent illegal gold miners from entering Jumbo Mine, which is owned by Metallon Gold, the corrupt ones allegedly facilitate illegal artisanal miner’s entrance for a fee.

Other police officers allegedly run business syndicates including the illegal trade of mercury. Zimbabwe is a signatory of the Minamata Convention which bans the use of mercury, a major chemical used by artisanal miners to trap the mineral from the ore.

Hundred and fifty tonnes of mercury are smuggled into Zimbabwe every year through the country’s porous borders. However, the chemical is known for damaging the human nervous system. It destroys internal organs such as kidneys, contaminates a feeding mother’s breast milk and causes deformities in unborn children .

Efforts to get a comment from the Officer Commanding Mashonaland Central Rangarirai Musharaurwa over the allegations leveled aginst the police were fruitless as his mobile number was unreachable.

Sex workers in search of the  United States dollar have relocated to Jumbo Mine where they provide their service to miners. They charge around US$5-US10 per ‘short time’.

Binging and sex characterise the life of illegal miners during the day as they wait for sunset to go underground. “We spend more than three days underground and when we come out, we will be sex starved and the ladies of the night come in handy,” said another gold miner only identified as Tafara.

Sexually transmitted diseases are also rampant at the mine.

“Most of our clients do not want to use protection during sex, they want it raw and quick. They are always in a rush,” said one sex worker.

According to the National Aids Council, Mazowe district has the highest prevalence of STIs in Mashonaland Central with Jumbo Mine being one of the hotspots.

“They (illegal miners) live a carefree life, engaging in unprotected sex and reckless spending because of their philosophy – eat and enjoy now, you don’t know what tomorrow holds,” said sociologist Pardon Taodzera.

The area is also proving to be a destination of choice for many vices that include, taxis, currency traders and loan sharks.

It is also a windfall for vendors who sale anything from clothes, groceries, cooked food as well condoms.

“The route is paying off. We get about US$2O per day because of the informal traders who are flocking the area from Harare,” said Tinarwo, a taxi driver.

Alice Moyo, an informal trader is earning a living through selling goods at Jumbo Mine.

“I sell clothes to the artisanal miners. Most of them buy new clothes each time they sell their gold, business here is good. I am able to send my children to school,” said Moyo.

A survey conducted by The Anchor showed that most vendors that enjoy good sales in the area push fuel, illicit beer, sadza and torches.

While this new way of life is fast becoming the new reality at Jumbo Mine, residents of Mazowe town and surrounding areas bear the brunt.

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