The Guardian, 9 January 2012
A gold rush near a Zimbabwean mining city has raised fears of a violent crackdown by security forces aiming to tighten President Robert Mugabe’s grip on power.Thousands of illegal panners flocked to Kwekwe after word spread of newly discovered gold deposits, the independent NewsDay newspaper reported. As the situation grew chaotic, armed police with dogs moved in to lock down the area.
Its gold wealth has now been “claimed” by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, NewsDay said, in a potential replay of Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields, where Zanu-PF has allegedly siphoned off tens of millions of dollars.
Kwekwe grew from a mining settlement on the well-worn road from the capital, Harare, to the second city, Bulawayo. Recent reports that panners in Sherwood Block, in the suburb of Amaveni, had stumbled upon pure gold nuggets prompted a scramble reminiscent of that for diamonds in the country’s east. Then, in 2008, diggers were savaged by police dogs, mown down by helicopter machine guns or buried alive. It is thought more than 200 died.
According to NewsDay, “the gold find triggered a spending spree in nightclubs around Kwekwe, where panners from Amaveni who had been lucky were buying expensive drinks for patrons”.
But when groups of vigilantes allegedly seized the area and demanded “tax” from the panners, many of whom are typically driven by poverty and desperation, police stepped in with weapons and dogs to take control on behalf of Mugabe.
“Announcing the takeover of the area at a rally attended by hundreds of panners who had been chased away from the fields by police, Zanu-PF Midlands provincial security officer Owen “Mudha” Ncube said the gold deposits in Sherwood belonged to his party,” NewsDay reported. “Mudha said Zanu-PF had fought in the liberation struggle to ensure that Zimbabweans owned their land and the minerals in it and therefore had rights to control who mined at the fields.”
The paper described Mudha as chanting party slogans that insulted Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has a fragile power sharing deal with Zanu-PF.
NewsDay said Zanu-PF has started compiling registers of people who will be allowed to enter the fields to mine the gold. Cornelius Mpereri, a close ally of Emmerson Mnangagwa, tipped as a possible successor to Mugabe, and Josphats “Gold” Sibanda have registered the Sherwood Block mining claim, it added.
Eddie Cross, policy director general of the MDC, said the Kwekwe area was rich in gold and such discoveries were not rare. “What is unusual, if confirmed, is the move by local Zanu-PF leadership. This is the home of Emmerson Mnangagwa. He is the biggest gold trader in the country. The fact they have moved to take control of this by force is unexpected.”
Farai Maguwu, head of Zimbabwe’s independent Centre for Research and Development, which has monitored rights violations in the diamond trade, said: “It’s a country where the law of the jungle, or survival of the fittest, is the rule of the game. Given the politicisation of this new find, and in light of the fact that the gold was discovered by ordinary, hard-working Zimbabweans who are now being forced out by those who abuse state security apparatus for personal gain, violence is inevitable.
“It may not be as herculean as what happened in Marange diamonds fields three years ago, but the hard lesson we all got from Marange is that when politics and poverty come face to face in a resource area, there will be violence.”
Campaigners believe that tens of millions of dollars from the Marange diamond fields are bypassing Zimbabwe’s treasury and filling Zanu-PF’s party coffers, strengthening Mugabe’s hand for elections due later this year.