Corruption watch: The gold mafia of Kwekwe

Phoenix Primary School which collapsed last week

Just recently, at least 14 pupils were injured and hospitalised after the floor of their classroom collapsed at Globe and Phoenix Primary School in the Midlands city of Kwekwe.

That was scary, if you ask me. It’s just good—in that badness—that there were no fatalities.

What happened is that illegal miners had dug a tunnel—at least one—under the school, which is just a whisper away from the Kwekwe central business district.

It was this tunnel, or these tunnels, that forced the caving in of the floor.

That’s not the first time that such a scare has happened at the same school.

About a decade ago, an illegal miner surfaced from beneath another classroom at night.

When this gory breach was discovered the following morning, there was so much huffing and puffing around the incident, resulting in the condemnation of the classroom block. Never the complete closure of the school.

Globe and Phoenix Primary School is located in the vicinity of Globe and Phoenix Mine, G&P, which is one of the oldest mines in Zimbabwe.

The current curse started in 1894, just as the colonial marauders had descended on modern-day Zimbabwe.

What is now known as Kwekwe was designated as an outpost of colonial expansion modelled by the Pioneer Column.

Then, two fortune hunters, Edward Thornton Pearson and Joseph Schukala, got rich gold fields that they merged and called Globe and Phoenix.

They were joined by another opportunist, Lionel Phillips, in the venture.

Globe and Phoenix Mine prospered and was, for some time, one of the biggest gold producers in the world.

But, post-independence, it went on a gradual decline, to the extent that, now, it has become dormant as a formal commercial venture.

In the early days, a settlement for the mine labourers was set up.

This is what you now know as Kwekwe.

So, you may want to think of Kwekwe as having been born of gold, pretty like it is now cursed by gold.

Officially, G&P still has an owner, Olympic Gold Mines whose subsidiary, Kwekwe Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM), is supposed to be doing business there.

 Practically, though, the mine has been taken over by the illegal gold miners.

These are the chaps—hundreds, if not thousands, of them for that matter—who have vowed that, if there is anything that’s ever going to happen, it is the city that should move to a new location, not them.

More about this later.

Now, the oft-violent and murderous fortune seekers are digging out the bowels of Kwekwe.

Add to that the fact that G&P and other registered miners such as the notorious Gaika have drilled long tunnels that crisscross the underbelly of the city. Records say the longest tunnel is worming for some 43km underneath. 

If you are going to listen to the city engineers, there isn’t too much to worry about with this maze of tunnels literally undermining Kwekwe.

They say the tunnels are too narrow and too near to the surface to pose any material danger to this “floating” city.

Well, those bespectacled chaps can take their expert nonsense to the dingy bars of Karaga or Redcliff.

Because there is no way in which you are going to convince a parent whose child has been taken to hospital after the collapse of a classroom floor that all is well and swell.

This is the same place where, in early 2014, a whole garden suddenly sunk into the ground as the owner of the house was doing some gardening, when a tunnel 30m into the ground collapsed.

The same area where a miner was swallowed by a tunnel and died in February 2014.

Ask the Kwekwe City Council.

They will tell you that they have spent thousands of dollars in good money to repair sewer and water pipes that have been damaged by the makorokozas.

If your mind wakes up at 10am and goes to sleep before dusk, you will easily blame the illegal miners who, in such areas like G&P, as rumour goes, you hear them shouting out for the shovel right under your bedroom floor,

The illegal gold miners have organised themselves and been organised into marauding forces.

These gangs include the menacing Anacondas and Al Shabaab.

Yes, they do their dangerous work with impunity, no doubt about it.

They have done that for more than two decades, under everyone’s watch. Which brings me to the point.

 If some people had done their job properly, you wouldn’t be seeing or smelling a single korokoza in what used to be Zimbabwe’s smartest city.

The illegal miners are there because there are people who want them there; who see capital, literally, in them continuing destroying Kwekwe from the belly.

The late Masango “Blackman” Matambanadzo once said it the other time.

He accused his former colleagues in Zanu PF of sponsoring the gold gangs.

You ought to have believed him because he was part of the system for a long time and an MP for Kwekwe Central, so he knew all the tunnels to the issue.

Culprit number one, therefore, is the ruling party.

This is the very institution that birthed the gangs. Why?

Because the mostly young illegal miners were a good tool to use against the opposition, during election time.

The gangs then turned to the disused mines to dig out the gold for their godfathers.

The gold mafia.

Since, in Zimbabwe, it’s always election time, the gangs have been useful tools for the party all the time, being deployed to terrorise supporters, real and imagined, of the opposition. 

This almost backfired on the party a few years ago when the gangs became wildly violent, using machetes and the odd gun on anyone they fancied.

The menace quickly spread throughout all the rich gold areas in the country, to the extent that the gangs were threatening to turn into a national security threat.

They were killing even soldiers and cops.

That’s when the security forces came together.

The police, army and central intelligence.

They mounted a blitz against what had then come to be known as the machete gangs.

In no time, the gangs got somewhat better behaved.

And this is where the point lies. If big people out  there really want, you get results.

The illegal miners have continued in Kwekwe and other areas as if the sun shines through their bowels.

That’s because the big people do not want to take action, for their own reasons.

Talking about big people, do you notice that it’s fairly tempting to blame President Emmerson Mnangagwa?

 Far and wide, he is considered the Kwekwe city father.

Kwekwe is his home city. All the mess we are seeing today, it started and grew right under his nose.

Some people have even gone to the extent of saying the president, right from the time he was minister, was too close to the gangs even in their formative years.

 This may be talk from people who don’t like him.

But even if it was all lies, a burden still remains with the president.

He must use his influence, and constitutional obligations of course, to ensure that sanity returns to the city of Kwekwe and, in the process, clear his name.

Without that, cynics would always choose to believe that he is part of the gold mafia, benefiting from this madness of illegal mining in the Midlands city.

Just as a joint operation flushed out the war-mongering machete gangs, so can the security forces launch another operation to stop the dangerous and haphazard diggings in Kwekwe and beyond.

Some people are saying the gangs are actually digging underneath the police station in G&P.

Blame goes beyond the makorokozas, Zanu PF, the president and the security forces.

There are other authorities like the Kwekwe municipality, the Civil Protection Unit and the Environmental Management Authority that are just snoozing behind the wheel, deliberately or so.

*Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]

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