Kuda Bwititi and Rudo Mandiro
Police have deployed one of their largest ever forces in recent history to different parts of the country as they intensify a crackdown on machete -wielding gangs that have been terrorising small-scale miners and ordinary citizens.
Units from all police departments including the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Police Support Unit, and plainclothes officers are on the ground in the massive operation that law enforcement commandos have described as “unprecedented”.
The machete gangs started playing out during battles for spoils by illegal gold miners, but the vice has now extended to other violent crimes such as armed robbery.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi yesterday said the number of suspects arrested in the past few weeks was now 1 605 with more arrests expected in the coming days.
The latest arrests saw 68 illegal miners nabbed at Jumbo Mine in Mazowe, while one individual was arrested in Shamva.
Officers are also methodically conducting investigations to ensure that the cases presented to prosecutors are solid.
The thorough nature of the investigations have already seen some of the suspects receiving instant justice in the form of prison sentences.
Asst Comm Nyathi said police were stepping up the fight against the machete gangs.
“This is a massive operation and one of the largest operations we have ever had. All relevant police units have been activated, which means that they are on the ground, working together and this is something that does not happen very often.
“This is a countrywide operation, with the main focus on gold mining areas as well as areas where the machete gangs have been operating.
“We want law and order to prevail and bring to book all these criminals.”
Asst Comm Nyathi said the operation would ensure that there are no sacred cows, in the wake of allegations that some prominent figures were behind the violent gangs.
“The Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage has held meetings
with our Commissioner-General and the direction that they have set for us is clear.
“There are not going to be any sacred cows. We are carrying out this operation without fear or favour.”
With regards to reports that police officers have been conniving with the machete gangs, Asst Comm Nyathi said: “We are aware of these allegations.
“To date, some disciplinary measures, which I am not at liberty to disclose, are going on against some of the accused.
“Those who abuse police powers will certainly be brought to book.
“As an example, our commanders were in Bindura last week and comprehensively addressed this issue.”
Mines and Mining Development Deputy Minister Polite Kambamura said his ministry was in support of the arrests as illegal miners were disrupting genuine small-scale miners.
“The people worst affected by these violent gangs are registered small-scale miners,” he said.
“Small-scale miners produce the bulk of gold delivered to Fidelity Printers.
“However, these violent gangs were creating a problem, because we cannot account for some of the gold that they get.
“There was a need to bring sanity to the sector so that the genuine miners continue working with us and we also support them through finance and equipment.”
Deputy Minister Kambamura said the violence in the gold sector was a threat to the Government’s target of earning US$12 billion from the mining sector by 2023.
“These violent acts pose a threat to our vision. In 2019 we recorded a drop in gold deliveries and this can be linked to the violent gangs. We suspect that some of them are involved in the smuggling of gold out of the country,” he added.
On Friday, mining stakeholders including officials from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, police, mining associations and the civil society converged at a workshop convened by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) in Harare and made a number of resolutions to address the menace posed by the machete gangs.
According to a document released after the meeting, the stakeholders resolved that: “The police need to be equipped with the appropriate weaponry to be able to stand against these hooligans.”
The stakeholders also proposed inclusion of other arms of the law because of the urgency of the matter.
The document further states: “Whistleblowing should be encouraged, likewise genuine protection is needed should identity be exposed.”
A snap survey conducted in Harare showed that the police operation also included traffic police who were target ing vehicles suspected to be used in committing armed crimes.
The police are mostly patrolling in areas that have been identified as high-risk areas, including bus terminuses and school sites.