By Richard Muponde
MBEMBESI villagers are living in constant fear of violent illegal gold panners, popularly known as MaShurugwi, who have reportedly invaded the area and are digging around homesteads and gravesites in search of the precious metal.
The gangs, which are reportedly armed with axes and machetes, are defying the COVID-19 lockdown measures as they unleash a reign of terror in Mbembesi, about 50km out of Bulawayo along the Harare highway.
They have also dug near Chief Ndondo’s homestead.
There are reports that the panners are digging underneath the road network in the area, rendering them unsafe for vehicles.
Villagers say they are hopeless as any challenge to the gangs is met with violence.
Chief Ndondo yesterday confirmed that the illegal gold panners had become a menace in his area.
He admitted they were digging close to his homestead, but denied the desecration of graves.
“The issue of digging of gravesites appears to be untrue, but the illegal gold panners are a menace,” Chief Ndondo said.
“They have dug under our main roads and it is now dangerous for motorists to travel. We have reported to the police, but they kept on saying they didn’t have transport.”
He added: “They (MaShurugwi) have caused a lot of damage. We are appealing for help to curb their criminal activities. It should not take long for police to act on an issue like this.”
A villager in Mbembesi, Nkululeko Majola, said the situation was volatile in the area. He appealed for the intervention of security forces.
“They have no respect of sacred places in our area. They are even digging in gravesites. You can imagine the kind of people we are dealing with. Right now, they are digging in our fields close to our homesteads. If you try to approach them, they turn very violent. We are living in fear,” he said.
Majola said as villagers, they were appealing to government to deploy soldiers to the area to restore order as they also fear the spread of COVID-19.
“These people come from different places, some of them from areas which have high number of cases of COVID-19 positive people. They also don’t adhere to COVID-19 prevention measures as they don’t have protective equipment. They mingle with locals at the business centre and they could spread of the deadly virus,” he said.
MaShurungwi have been causing chaos in Matabeleland during the lockdown period, especially in Gwanda, where they have reportedly robbed several mines, leaving a number of miners injured.