The unpopular and violent brigade of illegal gold panners popularly known as MaShurugwi continue to be a menace in the small mining town of Bindura with residents constantly living in fear of being attacked.
The machete-wielding illegal miners operate mainly in gold rush Mazowe area, close to the now-defunct Jumbo mine.
Just last week, police arrested six members of the gang, who had invaded some open pits at the mine, threatening other miners with brutality if they interfered.
The incident, witnessed by this publication, only came to a halt after the police fired gunshots to bring sanity as violence erupted sporadically.
263Chat recently tracked down some victims in Bindura who have been at the receiving end of this cartel which reportedly hail from Shurugwi areas, in the Midlands province but has set homage in the Mashonaland Central Province in search of the precious yellow mineral.
The gang, which is believed to be politically connected, has been menacing Bindura who now live in fear of being attacked at beerhalls or in their locations.
The residents said although there has been police intervention which has seen some of the thugs retreating to surrounding areas, they live in fear that anytime they may be attacked.
“One MaShurugwi could simply enter a bar and announce ‘muShurugwi auya’. Without a weapon, with nothing, but the imbibers would scurry to their homes for cover,” recalls Onias from Chipadze Township.
He said the recent raids by the police have calmed down the situation but most of them still live in fear as the gang can just make an announced visit.
However, another resident took a swipe at local sex workers whom he said hide the gang members at their residents and only crawl under the cover of darkness to pounce on suspecting victims.
“Some of them (Mashurugwi) are in hiding under the shelter of prostitutes. The prostitutes don’t care because they are also not from around here so they have no fear or shame. Their families are far away,” said a local man identified as Tindo.
The residents called on the government to come up with stringent laws that regulate mining activities in the country and allow for all to benefit rather than a small clique to capture all mines.
He said in the absence of these laws, MaShurugwi should continue to be raided and the move does not benefit anyone.
“They don’t need to do all this. They are Zimbabweans. We are Zimbabweans. Let’s work together. Let’s have the officials regulating our (mining) operations so that we can work together. There is a lot of gold in this area. It’s enough for all of us,” said another local who only wanted to be identified as Tsano.
The government, however, claims that “artisanal miners”, contribute more than 30 percent of gold output for the country and there is a need to protect them.
However, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, last week warned the MaShurugwi with lengthy jail terms should they continue to terrorise innocent civilians.
““We are aware of the activities done by people who go around bullying others, who don’t even have the requisite papers and who are using force to chase away those with proper claims. If anyone is found with a machete they are going straight to jail,” President Mnangagwa.
This is despite reports that the gang has close ties to the President and some members within his cabinet.
The government says it is targeting a USD$12 billion industry by 2030 and that target is premised on the contribution from artisanal mining.