They came, they looted and they left.
BY TATENDA CHITAGU
This is the general sentiment among villagers in the Hwendedzo resettlement area, about 25km north-east of Masvingo city, where there was discovery of gold at the end of January this year.
Authorities have sealed the area after fortune seekers descended on the area from all parts of the country and caused pandemonium.
“The majority of the villagers here did not benefit anything because we were sidelined.
“Instead, ruling party politicians, securocrats and connected cartels were allowed to mine for gold while the locals were actually assaulted by the police.
“I saw it myself, they were given turns to get in and pan for gold.
“We were not asking for much,” said Frank Utahwashe, a 38-year-old local man from Stanmore B village, who said he was also assaulted by the police.
Over a month after the industrial-scale scooping of gold, there is nothing to show for it and this has turned to be a resource curse for the area in Masvingo North constituency.
The environment is now scarred, some villagers had their property stolen, moral decadence rose and locals’ crops were trampled on by thousands of panners, while their cattle’s grazing area is now littered with unfilled pits.
Usually, in areas where there is a gold rush, locals will be driving cars and spending lots of money.
But at Hwendedzo shopping centre, the influx of thousands of people who were sleeping at the verandas triggered a sudden increase in prices of basic commodities
The police soon sealed off the hill where the gold was discovered and arrested some of the small-scale miners.
About 98 miners were arrested and convicted for defying Covid-19 lockdown measures and fined $20 000 each.
A police roadblock at the intersection of the Masvingo-Mutare highway and Kyle turnoff was moved further to Hwendedzo turnoff.
And the dust road leading to Hwendedzo shops had two roadblocks, according to villagers.
Rangarirai Muzenda (60), another villager from Hwendedzo village, said the police would allow ruling party members — including senior politicians, members of women and youth leagues — to dig for gold, while they were denied entry.
“Of course, where there are a lot of people, we can’t all get in and benefit the same way,” Muzenda said.
“But the truth of the matter is that somebody ate our lunch. And our villages turned into war zones as the police were involved in running battles with miners from outside.
“We are not happy, but there is nothing we can do. We are powerless. Everything is for them.”
At one time, the villagers clashed with the police over the looting by Zanu PF and securocrats, with the police firing teargas and live bullets during a recent encounter.
Masvingo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Kudakwashe Dhewa said he did not receive reports of police assaults by the villagers.
“We do not have a report yet,” Dhewa said.
“They should report.
“If people just make such allegations without reporting, it would be difficult for us to verify them.”
A source at Hwendedzo clinic said many people were treated for injuries at the health centre.
An estimated 50kg of gold was extracted in the area.
Even the grave of the late owner of the commercial farm, Louis Robert Hartley, a Rhodesian politician, was desecrated as the fortune seekers believed he was buried with a gold treasure trove.
But the gold rush dissipated as the gold deposits were depleted.
An estimated 8 000 people flooded the area and were sleeping by the roadsides, in trees and cars at the shops, according to a local shop owner.
But only the local villagers now remain in the area. The gold diggers have left and sanity is now restored in the area.
Police have since left the area they had cordoned off.
But there are now armed private guards at the area who claim the panners were mining in somebody’s registered private claim.
Hwendedzo B village head Sino Chinomwe (96) said the gold had not been depleted, but had “disappeared” because of the unfair manner in which the mineral has been exploited.
“We were not consulted as the local traditional leadership,” Chinomwe said.
“We believed our ancestors had given a lifeline for the locals and even the general populace, whether from Shurugwi, Zvishavane or elsewhere.
“Only those with positions of authority and sons and relatives of senior politicians were being given access.
“Only a few locals benefited.
“They left unfilled pits for us. They destroyed our crops. Our cattle no longer have grazing lands and risk falling into the unfilled pits.
“We were staying indoors afraid of the police. We also wanted to benefit, but we were excluded.
“After people protested, they gave locals a chance only on one day when they realised the gold deposits were no longer near the surface.
“Now they can’t find the gold. It’s not that it’s depleted. It’s there.
“It just disappeared. According to our tradition, there were rituals that were supposed to be done.
“That is the rule of gold. It is spiritual.
“Even the local chief was also not consulted or engaged. So we took a back seat. “Now they can’t find it.”
Davis Marapira, the MP for the area, called for a review of mining laws so that locals benefit from a resource found in their area, either directly or indirectly.
“Our mining laws are not in conformity with our culture and need to be reviewed,” Marapira said.
“Imagine people are given claims and go on to fence off and dig graves of other people’s relatives. That is uncultural.
“Priority, where gold is found, should be given to the owner of the land so that she/he partners with those with the potential to mine rather than for outsiders to get claims on people’s farms and homesteads.”
Marapira, who is a minister of state in Vice-President Kembo Mohadi’s office, said he was in the dark about the exploitation of the gold found in his constituency.
“I did not know that there were people given claims in my constituency,” he said.
“The ministry of Mines should work with local leaders, legislators and councillors so that in an area where there is a mining venture, locals benefit from corporate social responsibility programmes implemented by the miners.”
For Hwendedzo, what were left by miners are pits, chaos, moral decadence, destroyed grazing land and crops.