Mexican style gang wars have rocked Silobela, some 70km outside Kwekwe as illegal gold miners tussle for territory and control of mining claims in the gold-rich area.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA RECENTLY IN SILOBELA
The violent fights for territory fought with machetes, knobkerries, broken bottles and lately, even guns, are mainly between rival families.
Local police are struggling to contain the wars and preserve peace. They too are said to be living in fear.
Recent wars being fought between the Ndocha and Mathonsi family gangs resulted in a shoot out which left Kudakwashe Mathonsi dead after he was allegedly shot by a police officer.
Territorial wars, which have rocked the Crossroads and Mahari business centres and the rural environs in Silobela are between the Mathonsi family, led by Honest and the Nyoni family popularly known as Ndocha whose leader is said to be Champion Nyoni.
The family leaders are reportedly ruthless hardcore gangsters who are feared and treated like demi gods in Silobela.
Honest lost his brother Kudakwashe a few weeks ago in one of the turf wars, although he was actually shot by a police officer during a showdown in which stones, machetes and guns were allegedly used.
Sibonikuhle Ndlovu, who comes from Village Four in the territory controlled by the Mathonsi family said the battle for territory was so fierce it had the entire community scared.
“The Ndocha guys control the Crossroads area which is out of bounds for the Mathonsi gang and its people. If they dare venture into this area, fights will break out without need for reason,” she said.
The war which eventually drew in the police started when a gold-rich reef was discovered in Village 4 near the Mathonsi family homestead. The gold is what attracted the interests of the Ndocha gang.
An attempt by the Ndocha gang to gain access into the gold fields triggered a fierce battle which started from the village and spilled to Mahari Shopping Centre. Innocent bystanders were assaulted during running gang battles.
Tawanda Jamu, who relocated from Kwekwe to Silobela in search of the precious metal, narrated the events of the fateful day when Kudakwashe and his gang advanced towards the police despite warnings that they would be shot.
“The Mathonsi family came to Crossroads looking for Champion and his Ndocha gang. They were armed with machetes and were beating up everyone, including vendors and patrons at the shops as they hunted down their enemies,” he said.
The police were then called in to contain the violence but the Mathonsi, gang refused to give in to orders and instead attacked them, chasing them back to the nearby police station.
Kudakwashe is alleged to have been armed with a gun as his gang attacked the police.
Eyewitnesses who preferred anonymity said had the police officer who was calling them to order not opened fire and shot him first, he would have been the one dead.
“These guys have liver [colloquial euphemism for being brave]. They attacked the police and were prepared to run down even the police station. They are clearly not afraid of death as they literally live with it every day,” Jamu said.
Silobela legislator Manoki Mpofu said the gang wars started with the closure of Peace Mine, a highly productive gold mine which employed most of the youths in the area.
“The mine kept our people busy and provided them with income; but its closure saw gang wars erupting, with youths giving each other boundaries on the gold reef and weapons like knobkerries, machetes and guns becoming play tools for them,” he said.
The incident which left Kudakwashe dead and property at Ndocha’s homestead damaged finally forced the communities to sit down and find solution to the menace.
Mpofu’s personal assistant, Innocent Moyo, said the Ndocha and the Mathonsi families finally had a round table meeting last Sunday.
“We have made progress as a community, sitting down with the families and telling them that there is no need for these wars,” Moyo said.
“It was agreed that there was need to work towards protecting our resources from outsiders and not fighting our own brothers.”
During the turf wars, cars belonging to both gangs were damaged. Champion’s mother’s homestead was attacked and doors were reportedly damaged.
Moyo said the Mathonsi family agreed to make good the damages at the homestead but each gang would now repair its own cars, according to the details of the agreement.
Police are still hunting for gang members who are wanted in connection with various criminal activities, ranging from assault, malicious damage to property and theft, among other crimes.
Tracy Muchero, who carries deep scars on her face and arms, said violence had become a common feature at Crossroads as illegal gold panners battle for a livelihood.
“They are not afraid to slice people with broken beer bottles. There is a type of machete which has been given the name ‘Colombia’, which is used in most assault cases in this area. We are now afraid because these guys have no respect for the law or anything,” she said.
Moyo said because of poor rains in Silobela, gold mining was now the only means of survival for many people in the area.