Unmasking machete terror gangs spreading mayhem in the Midlands

Murder and violence are spreading in the mineral-rich Midlands — President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s home province — as armed militias reportedly sponsored by politicians wreak havoc with impunity.


Murder and violence are spreading in the mineral-rich Midlands — President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s home province — as armed militias reportedly sponsored by politicians wreak havoc with impunity.

A four-month long investigation carried out by The Standard, in collaboration with Information for Development Trust (IDT), has revealed that the police have largely failed to stop or control the violence.

The police openly admitted their helplessness — and fear too — as they implicitly blamed ruling Zanu PF politicians who have become the godfathers of most of the militias.

“I am not at liberty to comment on those issues (gang violence) due to their political nature,” said Midlands police spokesperson. Inspector Joel Goko.

The Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) that operates from the Midlands mining town of Kwekwe, which also happens to be Mnangagwa’s hometown, fears that the violence may be hard to manage.

“As a country, we are nursing a problem that will be very difficult to contain. Already we have so many victims, including deaths due to machete attacks,” said Obert Chinhamo, the ACT-SA director.

The armed violence has spun out of Kwekwe to neighbouring rural and urban centres such as Silobela, Kadoma and as far as Gwanda, according to Chinhamo.

The church is alarmed too, with the Interfaith Council for Justice and Peace Trust (ICJPT) that also operates from Kwekwe last February releasing a statement in which it said it was “gravely concerned that…Kwekwe and surrounding areas are no longer safe”.

The several armed terror gangs that operate in urban and rural areas are well-known to the authorities, said ICJPT.

According to ACT-SA’s Chinhamo, they “operate from mines either owned or have been forcefully taken over by politically connected persons”. Kwekwe, for more than a decade, has been the cauldron of armed violence and houses the politically connected barons who have entrenched interests in the illegal mining of gold and, of late, chrome.

The sprawling suburb of Mbizo in the Midlands city is home to arguably the most notorious gang—Al Shabaab — whose base is at Black Wadada and Gaika Mine is their main territory.

A rival group, Anaconda, is headquartered in Amaveni, one of the biggest and oldest suburbs in Kwekwe.

Feeder gangs are striking almost daily in surrounding but largely rural vicinities where they maim, rob and kill for gold ore and concentrate as well as territory. These groups, once in a while, team up with their urban counterparts against rivals.

For years and as late as March 2019, there have been waves of violence in the Dhakeni area of Zhombe East, which borders with Kwekwe where several groups operate.

They include the Mazero from village head Gideon’s area and the Zviuranda from Uranda and Mashanda rural areas.

Sithekutheku, a group dominated by the Fengu sub-ethnic community, conducts regular raids in the Mathe community while in Chiundura, also close to Kwekwe, is the Maketo gang that periodically bands up with Al Shabaab.

In addition to machetes, the gangs also use homemade spears, bows and arrows, improvised swords, axes and knobkerries.

Quite often, the violence breaks out as rural-based groups fight to settle family feuds and land disputes that have existed for decades.

This version of terror has resulted in the burning down of homes, killing of livestock and destruction of crops, often resulting in the displacement of hundreds of families, and children dropping out of school.

The much-feared Mashurugwi are originally from the small mining town of Shurugwi.

They are currently getting chrome and gold claims in the district allegedly with the help a senior Zanu PF politician.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance lawmaker Settlement Chikwinya, the Member of Parliament for Mbizo where Al Shabaab is based, says he has lived with the militia violence for a long time.

“I have seen so many victims of machete violence in Kwekwe, including some who lost their lives,” Chikwinya told The Standard.

Chikwinya gave a historical background of the urban machete violence that he said began in Kwekwe around 2009.

“Initially the violence started as a gold war with youths from different camps fighting for the control of gold deposits, especially at Gaika Mine (in Kwekwe) which has rich ores. The fights did not have anything to do with politics at that time,” he said.

“The problem came when Zanu PF senior politicians wanted to control the same gold fields.

“They would then use these youths as foot soldiers to invade rich claims and take control.

“In turn, they provided immunity against arrest. This made the youths untouchable since even the police were under the control of the Zanu PF chiefs.

“The impunity escalated towards elections. Now victims range from fellow gold panners, night club revellers, sex workers, cross-border traders and political opponents.

“The thugs, if they run short of money, are now literally robbing people.

“The Zanu PF politicians now want to disown the thugs but it’s too late because the cancer has spread.”

Even artistes deemed to be “politically incorrect” are not being spared.

A machete-wielding gang led by a stocky man, who claimed they had been sent by top Zanu PF members in Kwekwe, stormed a Thomas Mapfumo musical show at Gweru Golf Club on December 7, 2018.

The US-based Mapfumo is an internationally acclaimed Chimurenga music icon who is well-known for lyrics that are critical of the ruling Zanu PF and government.

The militias forced open the main entrance into the venue and ordered the organisers to let people in for free yet kept accusing Mapfumo of being a rebel for his songs.

There was a heavy presence of riot police details, but they took no action against the gang despite complaints from the organisers.

A day before Christmas, the same gang violently disrupted a Winky D dancehall show in Kwekwe, again despite tight security that included 21 bouncers, 15 police officers with dogs and 10 soldiers.

Winky D, currently one of Zimbabwe’s chart toppers, had just released a song — Kasong Kejecha — that seems to urge revenge against alleged electoral theft.

The gig organisers alleged the gang searched every room at the venue before setting up an illegal roadblock along the Harare-Bulawayo highway so as to ambush them on their way back to the capital, but the band used a different route.

On January 5 2019, the same group invaded Kudzanayi Bus Terminus in Gweru and forced buses that pass through the city-controlled bus terminus to surrender money to its members.

Gweru mayor Josiah Makombe, condemned police inaction after the violence and the opposition MDC-Alliance lawmaker for Chiundura, Livingston Chimina was arrested for trying to restrain the gang.

ACT-SA last year produced a dossier detailing the violence perpetrated by the named militias in recent months and, in almost all the cases, the gangsters are linked to Zanu PF. Militias, victims and residents who were interviewed said the guns that the militias often used to threaten their victims were being sourced from influential politicians. They also admitted that some of the perpetrators were falsely claiming to be getting them from their political godfathers so as to instil fear in others.

Gaika Mine in Kwekwe is an epicentre of the violence where influential artisanal miners use rival militias to fight each other for control of gold.

The police often conveniently classify murders that occur there as “sudden deaths”, making the weapons non-criminal cases.

On January 30 machete gangsters based at Gaika Mine tracked down a team of illegal gold miners that had made a fortune in rural Zhombe and met up with the latter at Empress, which is home to disused gold mines.

The Gaika gang demanded the gold from the other illegal miners and machete fights ensued, resulting in serious injuries and the death of one gangster.

Bloody violence also frequently erupts in the Empress area and recently, there were several deaths that occurred in the nearby Magandanzara area over gold claims.

One prominent name that keeps popping up as the armed gang violence spreads is that of Owen Ncube, the State Security minister, with most of the militias that spoke to The Standard describing him as their godfather.

He is popularly known as Mudha, which is a shortcut for “Mudhara”, a street moniker for “Old Man” or “Elder”.

He is a long-time ally of Mnangagwa, who last year surprised many by elevating him from a provincial minister to his current position, inviting anger from the opposition MDC-Alliance, which described Ncube as a “thug”.

Mnangagwa has in the past been accused by his political opponents and civil society of being the mastermind of Al Shabaab, in addition to running an illegal gold mining cartel in Kwekwe, but he has repeatedly denied this.

Ncube dismissed the allegations against him as the work of his political enemies and gave a blanket denial of his alleged involvement.

“I don’t know anything about those machete wars. My enemies are bribing journalists to tarnish my image,” he said, and would not respond to specific questions. Illegal gold miners said Ncube operated full-time from the Kwekwe Zanu PF offices — where the violence is reportedly planned — before his elevation, ensuring that the gangs were protected from arrest and prosecution.

The militias testified that they give the “chefs” royalties in the form of gold and foreign currency, in addition to acting as dogs of war, but also fight against each other away from their handlers.

Tapiwa Muto, the alleged Al Shabaab leader and a Zanu PF youth leader, once took care of Ncube’s property called Jessie Lodge that is located at the Mbizo 4 shopping centre, investigations revealed.

Al Shabaab has allegedly masterminded an illegal gold mining syndicate that operated in areas like Maluview, Sherwood and Gaika near Kwekwe.

The gang would reportedly raid other miners’ loot and share it with the “chefs” through the Al Shabaab leader.

While Muto could not be tracked down for a comment, some 2013 correspondence by a senior Zanu PF functionary, Retired Captain David Mutinyi Juro, and legal records outed his links with Ncube.

Juro wrote to the then Zanu PF national commissar, Webster Shamu, accusing Muto and Ncube of running the Al Shabaab terror outfit which he said undermined the party’s reputation.

Ncube was the party’s secretary for security in the Midlands province and, together with Muto and another party member, Moses Murada, demanded $30 000 in damages from Juro through their lawyer, Valentine Mutatu.

The parties, however, agreed on an out-of-court settlement.

The Kwekwe offices are now controlled by the Zanu PF Midlands spokesperson Cornelius Mupereri, who numerous sources accused of coordinating the militia terror after Ncube’s departure.

He, however, flatly denied any involvement in the machete wars. “There are people who are using my name to get away with crime and make a living out of it. We have been working with the police to ensure that we bring closure to the violence,” said Mupereri. Vongaishe Mupereri, younger brother to Cornelius, represented Zanu PF in the 2018 parliamentary polls but lost to Chikwinya who he is alleged to have terrorised.

Investigations showed that he owns some mines in Kwekwe from where he allegedly hires thugs to punish political opponents.

But the younger Mupereri also denied any links to the militias. “Those are MDC stories. There is nothing like that,” he said.

Kwekwe Central Member of Parliament, Masango Matambanadzo, a former senior Zanu PF member who is now with the National Patriotic Front, corroborated Chikwinya’s claims that the machete militias are controlled and sponsored by top Zanu PF officials.

“I am a former MP of that party and I know that the machete guys are running boys for top Zanu PF officials here in Kwekwe.

“I was frustrated out of the party partly because of the youths who were harassing me and taking orders from the top officials,” he said, adding that he raised the matter in Parliament.

Investigations revealed that the police are not only afraid of the political bigwigs that sponsor the gangs, but senior to low-ranking officers are in many cases accomplices in the militia terror.

They get bribes to turn a blind eye to the violence, but in some cases they are part of the illegal mining syndicates, taking sides with their preferred gangs and causing the arrest of their rivals.

Several members-in-charge at the Empress Police outpost have been transferred over the years forinvolving themselves in the gang wars and making rich pickings from illegal gold dealings, involved militias readily confessed.

At Empress, a new member-in-charge is quickly “initiated” into the locally dominant Mukwade gang through a named local female businesswoman who is reported to lure the police heads into love affairs first.

Locals at Empress accused respective police station heads of being driven in vehicles owned by members of the Mukwade militias. ACT-SA made similar allegations, saying that “the rank and file of the police receives bribes in order to turn a blind eye to the violence cases”.

A few cases of grievous bodily harm go to court, but, according to sources, they are often dismissed for “lack of evidence” while the police reportedly suppress reports of murder.

In early January, Chief Justice Luke Malaba acknowledged that corruption in the judiciary was a “scourge” that was undermining socio-economic development.

In Zhombe, a well-known militiaman identified as Hwami is said to kill at the slightest provocation. Villagers reported, often boasts that money protects perpetrators of violence.

“He moves around threatening people and telling us that the distance between a murderer’s freedom and jail is only a thousand American dollars. He says that money is enough to ensure no action is taken against him and others,” said one source, a man in his 40s who claimed he was a former gangster.

Victims of the armed violence often seek help from hospitals without the required requests for police report that are supposed to be issued by the police who refuse to issue the documents so as to avoid opening dockets, a senior nurse at Kwekwe Central Hospital said.

“A person with a gushing wound can just come here and say I was hit by machetes but the police will refuse to take my report or issue me with a police report for treatment. We end up just treating the people to save lives,” she said.

Another nurse revealed that they get threats for treating machete violence patients from the perpetrators.

Authorities at the hospital referred questions to the Midlands provincial medical director, Solomon Nyamutumbu, who however, said he was not aware of the threats or the claims that patients were being attended to without the mandatory requests for treatment.