BULAWAYO — Villagers in Mphoengs in Matabeleland South province are up in arms with gold panners who have invaded their area, digging on their homesteads and fields in search of the precious mineral.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
The panners, who claim to be Zanu PF supporters, descended on the area a fortnight ago following the discovery of gold deposits. Among the most affected villages are Bhulu and Matsota.
Apart from digging on people’s homesteads and destroying their crops, their activities may also result in siltation of rivers.
Some villagers claim to have been threatened with death by the panners if they resisted vacating their premises.
However, the villagers have vowed to “die fighting for their homesteads” if the police fail to stop the illegal gold diggers.
The panners are also accused of stealing livestock from locals, which they slaughter during the night for food.
Village headman for Ward 5 in Mphoengs, Simon Mpofu, said the panners were boasting that villagers would be forced to vacate the area because they had protection from Zanu PF.
“This is terrible. We are so helpless because the gold panners are boasting that they are untouchable,” said Mpofu. “They are saying it is only a matter of time before they drive us out of the area to turn it into minefields.”
He said the area had been badly destroyed and is in need of reclamation.
“I have never in my life seen such destruction. Their shafts, which they don’t bother to fill up when they do not find the gold, are now like landmines, as our livestock is dying after falling into them,” said Mpofu.
“We think that it is deliberate because besides [not filling up/fencing off shafts] they are also stealing our goats.”
Kholisa Mlalazi, the Ward 5 chairman, said the villagers would soon mobilise themselves to stop the panners from destroying their homes and fields.
“We feel we are being let down by the authorities. If the authorities want to turn this area into a mining area, they should find us alternative accommodation,” he said.
“Imagine you are having supper in your hut with your family and you suddenly hear people making noise, busy digging in your yard searching for gold.”