Esigodini has, in recent years, become a stage for frequent gang violence.
Rival gangs regularly fight among themselves. When they are not brawling among themselves the mobsters, drunk and armed with crude weapons as well as guns, would be running after police officers.
Dozens have been injured, even killed. Valuable property has been damaged in the process. Rumours abound that some people are killed and their bodies are placed on a section of the railway line that passes through the growth point. Passing trains will then run over the bodies. The word that goes out thereafter would be that so and so got too drunk he slept on the railway line and was crushed to death by the train yet that is the deeds of some violent gold dealer.
All the violence is inspired by gold — rivals seeking to settle disputes over rich mines, fights over gold deals that go wrong, fights over prostitutes and so on.
There are one or two lords who are said to be fuelling the fighting.
The latest flare-up occurred on Monday night at Habane Business Centre at Esigodini. This time, the target were police officers who had arrested a suspected gold panner. So hot was the violence that the police officers had to scurry for cover in nearby shops, leaving the handcuffed suspect behind. We are unsure if the suspect didn’t take advantage of the confusion to run to freedom, aided by his colleagues.
Earlier this month, a local gold baron shot a man who was among a gang of nine men who were armed with axes, machetes, spears and knives that allegedly attempted to attack him.
In November last year, an alleged ringleader of one of the gangs of gold panners was hospitalised after his right foot was chopped off in a mass fight over a mining claim in Filabusi.
The suspect who was facing charges of assaulting police officers, had been released from remand prison a few days earlier. He and his gang allegedly attacked police officers in a bid to force them to release robbery suspects. The gang allegedly damaged a police vehicle and deflated its tyres with Okapi knives.
In September 2015, a gold panner was found dead on a railway line at Mbalabala in Umzingwane District with residents alleging he was killed and thrown onto the track.
We are becoming used to the wrong things at Esigodini. The situation is already bad but there is a genuine risk that it might deteriorate at some point in future. Bigger confrontations can happen there and more people can be injured and killed. As a result of the recurrent bouts of violence at businesses at the growth point can incur losses from which they may fail to recover.
For these reasons, we demand order to be restored at Esigodini.
We regret that police officers whose constitutional duty is to maintain law and order are sometimes actually targeted at Esigodini.
We also regret that in the latest case officers on duty had to run for dear life just like civilians often do whenever the hoodlums decide to wreak havoc at the business centre.
Police are urged to undertake regular educational campaigns, exhorting the panners to shun violence and spend their money more responsibly. They must be told that violence does not discriminate, it can visit anyone anytime, even those that take themselves as the lords of it. The wise say “live by the sword, die by the sword.” Therefore everyone is safer when they don’t provoke violence or participate in it.
We know that there is a level of difficulty for police to undertake such a campaign as there is always that mistrust between them and illegal panners.
However, more of the outreaches will, with time, get the panners listening.
On another note, much of the mistrust will go away if the Government moves to legalise gold panning. If that happens, panners would have no reason to be angry with police all the time as no one would be out to get them. This suggestion has been discussed over the past 10 years but no agreement has been reached. But we hope that our Government would consider doing so.
Legalisation of gold panning has potential to enhance transparency in gold mining, helps remove bottlenecks in marketing of the mineral, enhances environmental protection and removes the acrimony that thrives in underground operations.
Police will need the assistance of the local leadership in Esigodini for the educational campaigns to stand a chance of success. Given the inherent mistrust between police and illegal gold panners, a presence of leaders such as councillors, chiefs, village heads and others could clear the air.
Article Source: The Chronicle