Freeman Razemba in Harare and Patrick Chitumba in Midlands
Criminal activities by marauding gangs of artisanal miners turned machete attackers have surged countrywide, with reported cases of murder, rape, assault, housebreaking and stock theft leaving many communities in perpetual fear of attacks.
Police have since started raids on illegal mining sites in all provinces and have recovered an array of weapons and equipment used mainly for gold panning.
Various stakeholders, including the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, have also been engaged to help in curbing illegal mining activities as the net closes in on the gangs.
Police statistics show that in the mineral-rich Midlands Province, reported criminal cases rose 33 percent in the first nine months of 2019 because of the influx of machete attackers.
In Bindura, more than 157 people were arrested for conducting illegal mining activities in the past two weeks, with police seizing generators and weapons such as machetes used by panners in robberies.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the launch of an operation to curb the criminal activities.
“Police in all the provinces have ongoing operations to ensure there is sanity, law and order at various mining sites,” he said.
“We are also working with various stakeholders like the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development during these operations.”
Asst Comm Nyathi said investigations had shown that people were coming from various places countrywide to raid and rob bona fide miners and rival panners of gold ore, goods, cash and foodstuffs.
“The police would like to warn people not to interfere with officers discharging their duties of maintaining law and order or the full wrath of the law will descend on them without fear or favour,” Asst Comm Nyathi said.
In the Midlands, 3 709 cases were reported between January and September 2019, compared to 2 789 recorded during the corresponding period last year.
This marked increase in crime follows reports that other provinces, including Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West and Manicaland have also been invaded by large numbers of machete attackers.
Mazowe and Bindura in Mashonaland Central and Penhalonga in Manicaland are among the gold-rich areas most affected by the fortune-seeking gangs which do not hesitate to use violence to satisfy their greediness.
Addressing the business community and residents during the launch of the Police Provincial Client Service Charter and Cop of the Year Awards ceremony at ZRP Zvishavane Camp this week, Officer Commanding Midlands Province Commissioner Moses Magandi said there was need for the police and stakeholders to work together to curb crime.
“Our crime analysis indicates that general crime increased by 33 percent during the period extending from January to September 2019, compared to the same period last year,” he said.
“The increase in crime may be attributed to the influx of artisanal miners from some parts of the country who come into our area searching for precious stones since we are blessed with mineral deposits in the province.”
Comm Magandi said Zvishavane and Mberengwa districts were the most affected, with the most common cases being unlawful entry and theft, assault, stock theft and rape of minors. He said a decrease was noted in rape cases involving adults.
Comm Magandi said the police had stepped up efforts by implementing strategies to ensure that the crime rate was kept under control.
“We have enhanced foot and mobile police patrols in urban set-ups and general patrols in rural areas,” he said.
“Let me advise members of the public not to move around with large sums of cash as robbery cases are also on the increase mostly in urban areas. Motorists must avoid offering transport to hitch-hikers along highways, and people should also avoid walking in unlit streets and secluded areas in both urban and rural areas.”
Comm Magandi said unlawful entry and theft cases were now common in both low and high density residential areas and industrial sites, with criminals targeting cash, cellphones, laptops, electrical gadgets and other valuables.