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Red-mercury hoax costs lives

Opinion & Analysis
The fatal explosion in Sunningdale on Monday reminiscent of the one that killed several people and destroyed a house in Chitungwiza last year

The fatal explosion in Sunningdale on Monday reminiscent of the one that killed several people and destroyed a house in Chitungwiza last year should serve as a strong warning to communities that “strange objects” should never be tampered with.

newsdaylogo_2 EDITORIAL


In both the Sunningdale and Chitungwiza explosions, eyewitnesses confirmed that those who detonated the devices were trying to prise them open. There is a myth going round that explosives such as landmines contain “red mercury” used to purify gold especially by illegal gold miners.

The red-mercury hoax has been costing lives for decades worldwide as people have tampered with explosives in search of this mythical substance. The Wikipedia notes that the first hoax was reported in 1979 and was commonly discussed in the media in the 90s with prices as high as $1 800 000 per kg being touted.

The public needs to be warned that there is nothing called red mercury contained in bombs that fetches thousands of dollars on the black market. It is a myth and people should not die pursuing a myth even when economic problems bite.

After the Chitungwiza explosion, police spokesperson Charity Charamba warned the public that there could be some people going around stealing and selling bombs making people believe that red mercury was found inside them and it fetched millions of dollars on the market. People should heed that warning and report anyone they see with suspicious-looking objects to the police.

We should remember that Zimbabwe got its independence after a protracted liberation war where explosives such as landmines were used and obviously remnants of arms caches with such dangerous devices are littered around the country. This makes certain individuals have access to small explosives and the unscrupulous ones can retrieve them and sell them to the gullible public who might lose their lives in search of the non-existent substance.

We should also remember that certain urban areas like Zengeza and Entumbane were used as assembly points by returning combatants during the ceasefire period in 1980 and there could be explosives lying around in those areas. It is incumbent upon citizens to ensure the safety of humans and property by reporting any strange-looking objects to the police. Citizens should also be vigilant enough to report strangers who bring strange objects to their areas. The Chitungwiza-Sunningdale experience has shown that anonymous people brought these explosives and disappeared when disaster struck.

The police and other experts should also play their part by carrying out awareness campaigns so that those not in the know are enlightened. This could go a long way not only in preventing the loss of lives, but also in assisting in the arrest of the culprits dealing in these dangerous explosives.