By Everson Mushava/Simbarashe Sithole
STATE Security minister Owen Ncube has been implicated in the often violent Mazowe illegal mining activities that have seen youth gangs popularly known as MaShurugwi, engage in machete wars over gold that have many people dead or injured.
Most of the MaShurugwi reportedly come from the Midlands province, where minister, a close ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, hails from.
NewsDay is reliably informed that villagers from Mazowe last Wednesday implicated Ncube, claiming the violent artisanal miners had been boasting that they were linked to the minister and were untouchable.
The villagers made the claims last week when an inter-ministerial task force visited the province to assess the scourge of illegal mining.
The delegation comprised four ministers — Winston Chitando (Mines), Kazembe Kazembe (Information and Technology Communication), Fortune Chasi (Energy) and Monica Mutsvangwa (Information and Publicity).
Police officers and Zanu PF officials also attended the meeting.
The villagers, who said they were now living in fear of the machete gangs, claimed that the MaShurugwi, who have been accused of wreaking havoc in the province, often brag about their links to the high offices, describe Ncube as their godfather.
The gangs have been said to be behind a series of crimes in Mazowe and some are already serving varying jail sentences for killings in the machete gold wars, despite claiming
known as Jumbo Mine, where the MaShurugwis have been said to be terrorising villagers.
The ministers visited Eureka Mine, a defunct gold mine that Mnangagwa visited before last year’s election, promising to open it and create hundreds of jobs, but is still to make good of the promise.
Jumbo Mine has become a hub of illegal miners and is claiming life on a daily basis due to unsafe mining practices.
Three people are reported to have been killed this weekend in machete wars.
While the ministers were locked in a meeting, some irate villagers outside claimed the MaShurugwi had been bragging of their links to Ncube, who is also accused of running similar gangs in the Midlands province, in Mnangagwa’s backyard.
“We told the ministers that all the chaos in this province is being fuelled by top ranking people linked to the machete-wielding artisanal miners,” one Zanu PF youth told NewsDay.
“The panners are terrorising the province, raping, robbing and murdering people. As Zanu PF youth, we retaliated last month and the chaos resulted in the burning of two commuter omnibuses which wanted to transport the MaShurugwi out of the province.”
The MaShurugwi have lately clashed with Zanu PF youths who are miffed that the people from the Midlands province are coming to terrorise them on their home turf.
Last month, the clashes turned bloody, with the ruling party youths torching cars the artisanal miners were using as transport.
At the height of the clashes, Zanu PF Mashonaland Central provincial youth chairperson Lens Ruwizhi Farando indicated that the party youths wanted to drive out the artisanal miners because they were causing unrest in the province.
The MaShurugwi, however, hit back, claiming Ruwizhi was simply angry because the artisanal miners refused to give him money he was demanding.
Another villager added: “Some of the villagers told the taskforce that the MaShurugwi openly bragged that they have protection from Ncube and would be released even if they are arrested.”
Ncube was not picking calls yesterday, but Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana, who was also part of the inter-ministerial team, without confirming or denying the villagers’ claims, said most Zimbabweans now have a pernicious social practice of excessive use of authoritative names for both criminal and patronage purposes.
“But that does not mean the person doing the name-dropping would have been sent by the person they claim to be their principal. It is tragic that we are in this place where some are taken by such simple con jobs,” Mangwana said.
“The use of a name of someone in a position of influence seems to have the effect of immobilising and disempowering the victim. The police should not be fazed by the use of the senior official’s name. This is why we have the trendy charge of ‘abuse of public office’ against those who misuse their positions of public trust for personal gain.”
According to some sources, during the meeting, Kazembe is said to have called for the closure of the mine, claiming it was now a headache for the district.
This was after Police Officer Commanding Mashonaland Central Rangarirai Mushaurwa allegedly accused the Mines ministry of failing to run the mine and requiring about half of the police force in the district to control the chaos around it.
Mashaurwa suggested that people should be put in groups of 100 and then take turns to mine while responding to allegations that the police were giving different charges on artisanal miners, raising suspicion of corruption in the conduct of the law enforcement agents.
Asked for comment, Kazembe said: “We can’t call for the closure of a mine that is already closed. The mine was closed a long time ago. We called for the normalisation of operations at the mine as people are suffering.
“The ex-employees are now destitute, and the mine is lying idle with no capitalisation for years. The country is losing and the people are losing while such an asset is lying idle.
We are saying, the mine must be brought back to its old days even if it means bringing in new investors, if the current owner has failed. Anyway, that issue is being handled by the Mines minister (Chitando).”
He said if sanity was restored at the mine, the youths would benefit more.