Abel Zhakata in Mutare
Police have arrested 168 illegal diamond panners in Chiadzwa for trespassing into the protected fields as law enforcement agents sealed off the area under “Operation Hakudzokwi”.
The arrests came after last week’s death of three illegal panners who were trapped after a mining shaft they were working on collapsed on the banks of Makodzi River.
This follows Government’s move to comply with a court order for Mbada Diamonds (Pvt) Limited security team to return to the diamond mining site to secure its gems and equipment.
Since moving back, Mbada Diamond’s security personnel have partnered law enforcement agents in flushing out the illegal panners who are flocking to the vast diamond fields in their hundreds.
Officer-in-charge Marange Police Station Inspector Ruzungunde said the illegal panners were nabbed on Sunday for trespassing into the fields.
“They were rounded up and handed over to the Minerals and Border Control Unit,” he said.
Those arrested were either found right in the fields or at shopping centres that are located in the protected zone.
The suspects were cleared after paying fines, while some were taken to the courts.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tavhiringwa Kakohwa said he was still to get information on the arrests.
“We are trying to contact police in Marange, but their phones are not working,” he said.
Details manning the fields revealed that the illegal panners retire to their bases at daybreak and invade the fields during the night.
“They operate like nocturnal animals. During the day, there will be no one in the fields. It will be quiet. All hell breaks loose at night as they invade in droves to steal the diamonds. Some of them are dangerous criminals and you have to be extra careful when approaching them. They will do anything to resist arrest,” said one of the officers who cannot be named for professional reasons.
Speaking during a tour last Thursday, officer commanding Operation Hakudzokwi Assistant Commissioner Ali Simbarashe Hondo said the illegal panners were taking advantage of the vastness of the area to sneak into the diamond mining fields.
“We have deployed our manpower in all strategic areas, but because of the vastness of the area, some of the panners are sneaking in. We will continue beefing up our deployments to ensure that the fields are completely sealed off,” he said.
Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs Mandi Chimene warned illegal panners from trespassing into the fields. She said law enforcement agents would deal with them accordingly.
“We want to warn people to stay away from illegal activities. Those harbouring thoughts of breaching security measures should be warned that the law enforcement agents will deal with them accordingly. This is a national resource which should benefit everyone and not a few individuals,” she said.