FOR a week, there was no life in the peaks that sandwich the Mukaradzi artisanal mining area in Mt Darwin after police reportedly descended on the isolated community, burning houses and property in an attempt to evict the nearly 3 000 people who eke a living from the gold-rich area.
MULTIMEDIA REPORT BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
Located in the bushy, and isolated area about 10km from Mt Darwin centre, Mukaradzi is usually a bustling community, where, apart from the small-scale mining activities, booze flows all day and night, while sex is a commodity that hardworking artisanal miners gladly buy to reward their loins after long hours underground.
It is a typical sin city, where all forms of debauchery take place within the confines of the makeshift shelters that are used as homes, beerhalls, tuckshops and love nests.
Despite the place lacking a proper road linking it with the rest of the world, all the vital supplies are found, thanks to the dozens of trucks that navigate the rough, offroad terrain to bring in supplies and ferry people to and from Mt Darwin centre.
Because the miners are known for their extravagant spending habits, hundreds of traders from Mt Darwin rely on Mukaradzi, which they now call their “Egoli — The place of gold”.
It is a melting pot, where people from all over the country converge in search of the precious mineral.
However, far from this bustle and grinding of machines, Mukaradzi is a heavily-contested area; one that locals say attracts the interest of some powerful figures in high places, who are keen to have a share of the golden cake.
During informal conversations, some local miners claimed top politicians and government officials (names withheld) own gold claims and have their frontmen doing the running.
Despite government proclaiming that it supports artisanal mining, the miners in Mukaradzi live on the edge, always in fear of displacement in case some powerful official needs to take over the entire gold rich area.
In addition to the contestation, the place, like many of its kind, is tightly controlled and patronised by Zanu PF structures, leaving it vulnerable to the factionalism that has rocked the ruling party.
As a result, miners always jealously guard their claims, ever engaging in balancing acts to be on the right political side.
It was, therefore, not a big surprise for the miners, when last week, police descended on the area and destroyed the compound, ordering everyone out and leaving many stranded and living in the bushes.
This was despite Environment minister and Mt Darwin South legislator, Saviour Kasukuwere having earlier held a meeting with the miners, where he reportedly assured them they would not be evicted.
When called by NewsDay Weekender, Kasukuwere said he could not comment on the matter.
Left in the cold after the police crackdown, the determined miners have since started rebuilding their houses, but under the watchful eye of the police who have set up camp on the other side of the mountain.
In a visit to the place, the NewsDay Weekender crew witnessed the results of the destruction, which are still visible — with hundreds of houses and grass shelters still to be rebuilt and dozens of people living in the open, with the few belongings they managed to salvage from the burning houses.
“I was in my tuckshop when word came that police were burning and destroying everything. Before I could get anything out, they were here and they burnt down everything, I am currently rebuilding the tuckshop,” one woman, whose small shop doubled as her home, said.
Those yet to rebuild their shelters have resorted to selling their wares in the open.
Another woman said she only managed to get her kitchen utensils out. “Everything, the blankets and other property were burnt,” she said.
Dozens of people said apart from losing their property, they lost their identity documents and medical records.
The place still bears the scars of the crackdown, with charred refrigerators, cutlery and utensils strewn all over, a minibus lying on its roof, and ashes were houses used to stand.
With the police still around, the miners are still apprehensive, preferring to conduct their business with one eye on the cops.
“We are still scared they may return and destroy our shelters again because this is how we survive, but we have no option to work on,” one miner said.
As the sun sets behind the mountain, the grinding of machines dies down, leaving only the sound of music playing from the only remaining beer spot.
It is the beginning of yet another long night for both the imbibers and those who are yet to rebuild their shelters and have to sleep in the open.