Dorcas Mhungu Post Correspondent
A few days earlier they had fled from the scene and hidden in the nearby mountains.
But, on this day, the place was full of gold panners and vendors who were selling an array of goods that ranged from food and beverages to clothing.
The scenario resembled a bustling marketplace where everyone busy themselves with their business of the day.
Kombis traversing the once quiet Tsvingwe Secondary School area have also bagged the spin offs of gold panning by ferrying to and fro, the panners, buyers and vendors.
While my colleague and I cringed to get closer and look down the deep pits dug out manually by the panners, they themselves looked down with ease and brevity that chilled the blood in my nerves.
Their desperation is driven by the dire need to put bread on the tables in their homes, according to them. Although some of the panners initially were reluctant and skeptical of the presence of the news crew, they later freely aired their grievances.
“We know these tunnels and pits are life threatening but, everyone’s life is in God’s hands.
“The ground in some places is shaky but what is happening here is because we have no option. I can’t pay fees for my children or even the funeral policy. This, (gold panning) is the last option.
According to the panners there were teenagers working at the site to raise money for school fees.
“When the police came here the place was full. They drove to the workshop then the people ran away beyond the mountains. We know when they are coming because we get calls.
Some members of the police force have their people here so they alert them about the planned raids. Their relatives are also here,” said one of the panners.
The gold panners also accused the security officers employed by the previous owners of the GTZ mine of brutal assaults that resulted in the death of their colleagues.
“They Government must create employment first. They must bring investors into the country so that we leave this risky gold panning business.
“We don’t know what happened between the previous company owners and the Government that led to the cancellation of the gold mining licence belonging to the Russians,” the gold panner said.
“Over the years, the previous owners have withdrawn the guards they employed to guard the mining fields and now there are a few guards left,” he added.
“What we need here is to legalise our operations. They must not chase us. I am licenced to buy gold under Fidelity Printers and Refinery. But, I don’t have the money. I am still digging,” said another panner who refused to be identified.
“When I am satisfied and know what organisation you work for, I will give you all my credentials including where I live.”
More and more panners came and voiced their concerns. “We also want to voice our concerns. ED Pfee! ED Pfee!” the panners said with clenched fists.
“When we say ED Pfee, we are saying forward with ED and we are saying this because we want him. All these people you see here are Zimbabweans.
“There are no foreigners here. If you want just take randomly five ID’s and you will see that its 50 and 75. We need jobs, we don’t have jobs.
“Some of the people come from Mutare and others from Mutasa. We have kids who need school fees and we do not have jobs,” another panner said.
“We are not digging virgin land but an area that has been mined before by the Russians. We are looking for leftovers and the area was vacated in 1997 and they moved further down. From 1997 we have been looking for leftovers left by the Russians.
More and more panners gathered around the news crew and explained, “The deep pits you are worried about do not scare us. Your life is in God’s hands. Your death day is determined by God,” they said to water-down the dangers associated with their life-threatening operations.
“We communicate with our President through the media and we are saying we love you ED. All these people selling their wares here are supporting Zimbabwean companies.
“The goods you see here are made in Zimbabwe and so the money is circulating in Zimbabwe. These are Zimbabwean companies benefiting from all these purchases and as you can see people are buying.”
The panners said they are also supporting the kombi owners who bring people to the area they are panning gold.
“The money is therefore circulating in our community. All these goods are Zimbabwean goods. We are being chased from here by EMA yet the Russians did not cover the areas they unearthed. Go and see for yourself if they are covered.
“We voted for ED so that we should mine the gold,” said another panner.
The panners asked the Government to open up a Fidelity outlet. “We will work as syndicates of 10 as they (Government) said and we will supply Fidelity Printers and Refinery. We don’t want this system of bringing truckloads of police officers to beat us with batton sticks. We don’t want that. We have kids in schools, we pay rent, we pay municipal bills like water and electricity.
“Mambuya ese aya, (all these elderly women) who frequent the area is because they want to send their children to school. They said we must be given the opportunity to voice our concerns and this is democracy.
“We are not denigrating President Mnangagwa. We love him intensely ED Pfee!” they chorused adding “but the Russians destroyed the area and took the gold to Russia,” the panners further claimed.
Said one young man, “I am 34 now and not formally employed. By the time I get employed I will have lost in terms of pension contributions and therefore what I will contribute will not be enough to look after my family,” furthering the call for President Mnangagwa to rescue them from death traps they are digging to earn a living.
“This is the last resort and we have no choice. Our hope is our President and please tell the people to stop calling us illegal gold panners.
“We are Zimbabweans legally and the President has acknowledged publicly our contribution to Fidelity, Printers and Refinery,” the miners said.