By Thomas Chidamba, ZiMining Editor
A night in shoes of a korokoza, mining under heavy police guard
SITUATED 30 km north of Harare is an area of rocky hillsides overlooking the Mazowe River. The area boasts of several botanical interests; however, Gomba, as the area is also known, is under serious threat from illegal wood cutting and gold planning activities.
You’re spot on if you guessed Christon Bank, and I’m at Christon Bank Supermarket for a reason.
Lengo and Nyathi promised to take me to Chemachida Mountain near Christon Bank as I embark on my mission to uncover police corruption in mining. The two, Lengo and Nyathi, have been mining illegally in the Chamaminda Mountain for a while, and are familiar with police corruption activities to access the mountain.
But on Lengo and Nyati’s advice, I had to bring with me 3 sacks and US$5 if I was to succeed in my undercover mission. As a backup, I also carried my press card— it always works wonders in tight situations that could otherwise be difficult to talk your way out.
Let’s back up a bit.
Chemachinda Mountain, near Christon Bank, is among the many places that have fallen victim to numerous good rushes in the country. The mountain, also known as kuMagaka and named after a nearby plot owned by a Mr. Houghton, a successful cucumber specialist, is home to the ancient granaries and is a burial site for Hwata Clan Chiefs. The gold rush led to Amakorokoza destroying the granaries that have been a preserve for centuries.
Anyway, back to my story.
It’s way past 8:30 pm.
I’m running out of patience.
Lengo and Nyathi are late for our appointment. A series of questions cross my mind. Have they changed their minds? Are they no longer willing to help me expose how the police are creaming off illegal miners? I ask myself.
But again, this might have been a blessing in disguise because while waiting for the two fixers to arrive, I spoke to two ladies. They introduced themselves as Lizzy and Chenge. After the introduction formalities, I learnt that Lizzy and Chenge were also headed to the Chemachinda Mountain; however, something was amiss with the two: They carried no tools of the trade for people going to a mining site.
“We are going for work at the mine . . . Tools are already there. We get employed to sieve rubble, and we get paid with rubble stones, so we don’t have to carry digging tools. If you want, let’s go. We can tell (them) . . . this is our brother who wants to join us than to keep standing in the (dark) doing nothing. Men of your age are making big money from artisanal mining (sic),” boasted Lizzy in her Malawian tainted Shona accent.
They pointed to me the area on top of a mountain, supposedly were they mine. From a distance, it looked like a ‘China Town’ because of the lights. But do these ladies know the area is a national monument, a Mbuya Nehanda shrine?
“Hold yourself, man. Do you know Mbuya NeHanda’s shrine? That place is not Mbuya Nehanda’s shrine. It’s just a mountain. Mbuya Nehanda’s shrine is in Shavarunzvi not kuMagakaka. If you don’t want to go and make money to take care of yourself and your children, better remain behind. You’re delaying us for nothing. Better we make our way,” said an ignorant Chenge.
What else could I say about such ignorance? However, Proverbs 26:4-5 quickly came to mind:
“There is no good way to answer fools when they say something stupid. If you answer them, then you too, will look like a fool. If you don’t answer them, they will think they are smart.”
I watched them as they went down the road clapping and laughing scornfully, presumably laughing at this writer for not being man enough to join ladies in a ‘men’s job’.
For a moment, I was in limbo. I had failed in my undercover mission, I thought to myself. Lengo and Nyati, my guides to Chemachinda Mountain, still hadn’t arrived yet at Christon Bank Supermarket, our rendezvous.
Just as I was leaving for home and having walked 30 meters from Christon Bank Supermarket, a voice called from behind:
“Natty, Natty, Natty.”
A sigh of relief!
Finally, Lengo was here. A tall and physically fit guy who would occasionally throw in a joke here and there emerged from the dark.
By the way, Natty is my undercover name.
“Natty, it looks like you had given up and you were going home? (sic) My apologies, I got delayed a bit. I was looking for a good shavel and a short range (chiesel). Anyway, we are good to go. Nyati hasn’t arrived yet?” Lengo asked as he puffed his favourite Pacific Storm cigarette
“No, I didn’t see him. I was here since 7:30pm,” I said.
As it turned out, Nyati was just around the corner, and it took him a few minutes to arrive after a phone call from Lengo.
Now that we were all together in one place, we made the beeline to Magaka, the land of gold.
I couldn’t help but notice the strong bond between Lengo and Nyati. They would chat and laugh together, a sign that they are good buddies.
As we traveled, Nyati assured me that all should go well. That I had no experience in mining was immaterial, Nyati said. After all, the two have enough exposure in artisanal mining, both alluvial and reef gold.
Occasionally, along the way, we would meet artisanal miners coming down the mountain with their sacks full of stones and going in different directions.
At this stage, I could feel my adrenaline rushing all over my body. Finally, I was about to witness firsthand the police involvement in mining corruption, I said to myself.
Just below the mountain, a group of artisanal miners was milling around a big rock.
“Tollgate,” said Lengo.
While I was still trying to figure out what he meant when he said “tollgate” in a bushy area, he asked aloud the miners milling around the big rock:
“Bho here Apo (Is everything ok?).
“Bholato (It’s ok),’ said the group of miners in one voice.
One of them, however, later explained why they were milling around the big rock.
“The police want US$5 for us to gain entry, but we don’t have. We tried to negotiate a share of stones after mining, but they refused. They want money. So that’s why we’re still here,” said one male miner.
Under Lengo’s guidance, we proceeded to the mountain. Barely 10 meters of walking, two armed policemen stopped us. As expected, one of them asked us where we were going.
Without saying much, Lengo drew near to him and slipped US$5 into his hand. Bribery is the language here.
“Next,” called out the police officer.
I was shocked! Had the police become so brazen? What a shame!
I was the last to ‘ pay’ my US$5 entry fee. He dropped the money into an almost full, big plastic carrier bag.
Now, the other police officer who had been quiet all along made a phone call— supposedly calling other members of the syndicate.
“Three are coming,” he told the person on the other end of the line.
He was referring to us.
With permission granted, we proceeded climbing up the mountain. There was a hive of activity as we peaked Chemachinda Mountain, and, again, two policemen stopped us.
They were armed to the teeth with what resembled AK 47s assault rifles. They were friendly and welcomed us. One of them jokingly said to me, “You also have come here today? This big belly will shrink. Try your luck, . . . you (might) pick some good money (sic).”
I only smiled in response and followed my colleagues.
The place was teeming with over a thousand miners of all ages and sex. Also, there were more than ten armed police officers. They looked happy, chatting to some miners and encouraging them to dig peacefully.
Nyati pointed to a place he said we should open a pit.
Here we were, mining in a heritage site under the watch of police; the same police that was supposed to protect and preserve our heritage. What an irony!
After we had dug almost 30 centimeters deep and collected a few stones, Nyati wasn’t pleased with the sample. We had to shift base.
The area was overcrowded, but we managed to secure a better spot. We collected some rubble stones after digging only a few centimeters.
The sound of tools as the illegal miners worked testifies people descended on Chemachinda Mountain for serious business.
As I pondered how on earth could these police officers, tasked to protect the Nehanda Shrine, are cashing in and assisting artisanal miners to destroy the national monument, one officer shouted: “Vabereki, kwaita reaction. Ngatimbodzikai tose mozodzoka. Dzimai matorch (People, there is another police reaction team coming here, so let’s all climb down. You will be back when dust settles. Switch off your torches.)”
I was told that the stones we had picked were less than a bucket, and it was called a muchabox or muchub.
We carried our muchub, our tools, and joined others down the mountain.
With the police reaction team said to be all over the place, it was now risky to move around with tools and muchub. Nonetheless, we continued with our journey.
As we approached another road, we saw a speeding vehicle coming in our direction. Danger has visited us, we thought to ourselves.
In a split second, Lengo threw the sack containing muchub into the grass.
“Let’s get into this plot,” quickly said Nyati.
Unfortunately, the gate was locked. Nyati tried to scale the fence, but Lengo pulled him down. We took cover in the grass until the car passed us. We later learnt that the car belonged to some artisanal miners who were also fleeing from the police reaction team. The reaction team had sealed off all major roads leading to Christon Bank.
There was no way out.
When the coast was clear, we then followed a footpath to Christon Bank Supermarket. The first to part ways with us was Lengo. The following day we were supposed to go to the grinding mill (popularly known as Chiguruguru) to process our muchabox, so we agreed on a 10 am appointment at Christon Bank Supermarket.
I proceeded with Nyati. However, using the main road was risky (despite having no tools as evidence of where we were coming from because Lengo took them with him to his house). We opted to go through the Christon Bank Primary School yard. I then parted ways with Lengo when we reached the other side of the road.
As for the next day, I didn’t bother going to meet Lengo and Nyati. I had gathered all the information I wanted to expose the involvement of the police in assisting artisanal miners to plunder the Upper Mazowe Valley National Heritage site.
Mutuso Dhliwayo, from Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), said economic challenges bedeviling the country were forcing artisanal miners to deface protected areas.
“There are several reasons . . . mining is taking place in protected areas and rivers. First, . . . economic challenges that (the country has faced) over the past two decades . . . have now been compounded by climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic (has) . . . affected the informal sector, (and) the mining sector is widely regarded as a viable source of livelihood.
“Second, several mineral-rich districts in Zimbabwe were pegged during the colonial era by multinational corporations.
“This means that there is now limited mining land that is available for new entrants like (the) ASM and new investors that the country is attracting.
“Protected areas and riverbeds (are viewed) as alternatives for new entrants, and this has resulted in the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development demarcating land in protected areas and along rivers for mining.
“Third, some . . . parts of the Parks and Wildlife Estates (and Heritage sites) are richly endowed with mineral resources that have been protected over all these years and are now being discovered.
“It is also important to note that some areas were actually mining areas or sites before they were declared National Parks ( and Heritage sites) and mining has continued after their proclamation,” saidDhliwayo.
Dliwayo urges the authorities to expeditiously amend the Mines and Minerals Act to curb illegal mining activities in protected areas.
“A policy pronouncement has no legal force. In other words, mining titles legally granted through the Mines and Minerals Act cannot be legally canceled through a policy pronouncement or ban.
“A policy is a statement of intent, and the Government needs to follow up on this intent by amending the respective laws that allow mining in protected areas in the form of the Mines and Minerals Act, (National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe Act), and the Parks and Wildlife Act.
“The policy ban comes at a very timely opportunity as there are ongoing discussions to reform the Parks and Wildlife Act, and reforms of the Mines and Minerals Act are ongoing through the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill.”
My trip to Chemachinda Mountain revealed that illegal gold miners cannot be solely blamed for the defacing of the environment and protected environments. Those who are to guard heritage sites such as the Mbuya Nehanda shrine, ironically, are involved in this shameful act. The police could be collecting bribes because they are poorly paid and are looking for the means to supplement their income. It’s a problem that Zimbabwe finds itself in, and authorities have a huge task ahead of them to fix this deep-seated problem.