By Rex Mphisa
VILLAGERS from Zezani, Makhado, Madzivhe and Siyoka areas of Beitbridge West have lost more than 600 cattle worth about US$600 000 (RTGS 2 100 000) to a syndicate they are convinced involves policemen.
A group of Gwanda businessmen are suspected to be central to what could be Matabeleland South or the country’s biggest cattle heists.
At least three police stations in Matabeleland South have had their members accused in the scam following the systematic disappearance of cattle.
The Gwanda provincial police headquarters might also be required to explain delays in giving feedback to villagers’ complaints against police as regards the thefts and what villagers feel is unfair treatment of complainants recorded as PV 04/19 submitted at Gwanda on January 7 this year.
On their end, the villagers uncovered, right in the backyard of these police stations, considerable evidence, they hoped police would knit up and secure long-awaited justice.
The syndicate, existent since 2012, according to the villagers, is polished in its alleged criminal activities and even uses trucks to move stolen beasts to as far as Bulawayo, if need be.
Villagers say, cattle are slaughtered at improvised abattoirs at West Nicholson and the Tshanyaugwe area in Gwanda South, known as a top hub of cattle theft countrywide.
A suspect caught by villagers identified as Mqondisi Ncube led police and villagers to the hideout and slaughter base.
It is understood cattle are driven by day or sheathed by night and camouflaged by the thick Mopani bushes synonymous with Matabeleland South to slaughter points.
Villagers said so sophisticated are the syndicate’s operations that it now has arms for extra-territorial cattle thefts hitting neighbouring Botswana and South Africa where beasts have been driven over borders for slaughter.
But to their surprise, the ZRP has allegedly twisted facts and arrested the complainants, accusing them of kidnapping Ncube.
In a bargain, villagers claim, Ncube took a crime consultative committee comprising 45 villagers from Beitbridge West to Plot 38 West Nicholson where he gave blow-by-blow narrations of his syndicate’s operations.
His responsibility, villagers said, was scouting targets and guiding hired cattle drivers to slaughter sites in the bush.
Ncube earned ox-tails of each slaughtered beast and $10 RTGS airtime money among other meagre favours from the group of Gwanda businessmen masterminding the thefts.
Ncube has nothing to show for the millions of dollars he has facilitated his masters make, said one of the villagers.
Villagers took Ncube to police at Makhado after recovering bells removed from their cattle, lifting equipment used to hoist slaughtered beasts into cars and hosepipes used to wash cattle carcasses from the makeshift abattoir.
The evidence is being kept by the Madzivhe village head after villagers expressed fear that involved police officers would interfere with evidence.
Maxwell Masuku, who is the chairman of the crime consultative committee, said villagers were shocked by the behaviour of officers at Makhado police base.
“To our surprise, a policeman who identified himself as Tarusarira, in the presence of another one called D Sibanda, said police had no food or transport to take Ncube to Zezani Police Station and we should do it ourselves, to which we complied,” he said.
Matabeleland South police spokesman Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele did not deny or confirm the case, but referred all questions to his head office in Harare.
“The nature of that case, because it involves policemen, becomes national. Please speak to Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi about it,” said Ndebele.
Masuku said later his deputy Pearson Siziba and other villagers took Ncube to Zezani where, in the company of another policeman identified as Magomani, Ncube led them to another slaughter site at Tshanyaugwe.
“Here, on 22 October last year, they found on site a Gwanda businessman (name supplied) loading cattle carcasses into a Honda CVR car and, on seeing villagers and the police, he drove away at very high speed,” said Masuku, who was accompanied by Siziba.
The businessman is part of a gang of four said to be supplying beef to top institutions in Gwanda.
More evidence was picked up at this bush abattoir in the presence of Magomani, who works for the Zezani stock theft unit.
A policeman at West Nicholson (name supplied) was used to clear them as properly acquired.
Masuku said a few weeks later Siziba, Charity Sibanda and Thikathali Munyaradzi were surprisingly arrested on allegations of kidnapping Ncube whom they had earlier surrendered to police as a suspect.
Villagers are baffled and believe it was a ploy by the police to silence them.
“What is more disturbing is that the Zezani police officer Magomani, with whom they went for indications to Tshanyaugwe led by Ncube, is now the state witness.
Having been there, why is he not being charged with kidnapping as well? Are we expected to have faith in the police?” Masuku queried.
Earlier at the makeshift abattoir on the banks of eMzingwane River in the outskirts of West Nicholson, a few kilometres from the police station, villagers said they found 15 pits where hides of slaughtered cattle were burnt to conceal evidence.
“Ncube told us that they would also burn foetuses found in wombs of cows,” Masuku said.
“The value of the stolen cattle is huge and we are just shocked at why police have let us down to this extent. It is disheartening that some police officers were clearing these cattle.”
Incidentally, the complaint was recorded by Ndebele, according to the villagers.
Another Beitbridge villager, Iyang Siziba, recovered his 25 cattle at a plot owned by some of the Gwanda businessmen.
“My cattle were found penned at a plot in Jani Ranch and the people who were driving these cattle are Lungisani Sibanda and Vusumuzi Mpofu, who are currently appearing in court, revealed who sent them.”
When The Standard reporter went to Makhado and West Nicholson police stations, he was referred to Gwanda.
“We cannot tell you anything but you should go to Gwanda,” Assistant Inspector Taruza at West Nicholson said.
He said the policeman named as the one clearing suspected stolen cattle was away.
At Makhado the member-in- charge who did not identify himself referred all questions to his seniors at Beitbridge.
But another policeman who asked for anonymity hinted that the kidnapping case against Siziba, Sibanda and Munyai was “embarrassing”.
“Forty-five villagers cannot be mad. These kidnapping charges were initiated from some policemen benefiting from these illicit deals. I am even more surprised than the villagers,” said the policeman.
A senior policeman in Harare yesterday said police officers who turned away villagers who brought a suspect at Makhado must be arrested for trying to defeat the law.