ZIMBABWE – Robbie Phiri, 21, was murdered in cold blood in the mining town of Chakari, Kadoma, a week ago. The case is still before the courts.
The mining community is still gripped with fear following a spate of violent attacks that have rocked the mining village.
Robbie’s mother hopes that his son’s murders will be brought to book. While the family is waiting for justice to take its course, the community is now living in fear following the vicious attack on Robbie.
“Someone was almost killed last week after he was followed and was only served by my daughter who was washing dishes outside the house.
“My daughter used a torch to see where the sound was coming from after she heard some movements that is when she saw a man running while being followed by another who was wielding a machete. When the attacker saw light, she retreated.
“Such has become the life in this community; no one is really safe at all. We even fear for our children as these illegal gold panners fight among themselves,” said a mother of two, who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation by the illegal panners.
Located about 33 km west of Chegutu and 38 km north of Kadoma in the Mashonaland West province, Chakari housed Dalny Mine, Falcon Gold’s second mine.
Following the closure of the Falcon Gold subsidiary, illegal gold panning has been the source of lively hood even for the former employees of Falcon.
While it has brought a source of income (illegal mining) for the laid off workers and other people who have come to search for the precious mineral, residents say social ills have been increasing with the rampant illegal mining.
Most of the attacks have been attributed to conflicts emanating due to rampant gold panning.
“While this has brought a source of livelihood after the closure of this mine, we don’t feel safe anymore. This place is now very crowded and we just don’t know each other anymore.
“The mine has allowed illegal panners in most of the houses as they have money to pay rentals. Some former mine workers have also built illegal structures to let out to illegal panners so that they can get an income.
“All this is not bad as people are trying to earn a living but it is the spates of criminal activities that are making us live in fear,” said a former Falcon Gold employee only identified as Phiri.
Residents say lack of electricity in the mining village has contributed to the increasing criminal activities in the community.
Electricity was disconnected in the community a year ago, after Falcon Gold’s accumulating electricity debt.
“We don’t have electricity and criminals are taking advantage of the darkness. Even if someone calls for held in the middle of the night, you cannot assist him or her because it will be too dark and you also fear for your safety.
“We hope the mine owners will do something to ensure that we have electricity restored again. This could go a long way in reducing the criminal activities,” said another teacher from a local school.
A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity admitted that the level of crime in the area had increased adding that they were also afraid of patrolling during the night because of the darkness.
“How safe will I be in this darkness is the first question that I ask myself. Most of the illegal panners are very violent and dangerous and they always move with dangerous weapons,” he said.
A former Falcon Gold miner who retired in 1997 and is now based in Harare has also blamed the illegal gold panning for the violent activities that have rocked the once quiet mining village.
Johane Manyoni, 70, said since the closure of the mine, it has been a dog eat dog situation as people fight for survival.
“During my days in this community, it was very peaceful and you would not hear of any violent attacks. We respected each other and we lived in harmony as a family.
“It is very disturbing to hear reports of several murders in that mining village that I called home for the more than 30 years I worked there.
“I’m appealing to the powers that be to ensure that sanity prevails in that community,” he said.
Commenting on the fellow miners who were laid off without any packages, Johane said it was unfortunate that they never got to enjoy the fruits of the once successful mine.
“I managed to take all my children to school with most of them having graduated. I also managed to buy this property where I’m staying in Harare when I retired but it is unfortunate that they are still stuck in that community that has turned into a war zone because they were not paid any packages,” he added.
Apart from the spate of crimes, the former Falcon gold mining community is facing a myriad of challenges such as water problems and the public toilets that were cleaned everyday are now a menace. They have gone for years without having been cleaned.
A health hazard is looming in that same community that has become a hub of crime.
“These toilets have not been cleaned for ages and as you can see some section of the houses were built without bathrooms and toilets meaning we used those public toilets and baths rooms.
“How do you then expect us to use toilets that have not been cleaned for years? Tirikungorarama nenyasha,” said a 33 year-old mother of two whose family is also suffering after the closure of the mine.
Amid all these myriad of challenges, the community continues to live in fear as Robbie’s family prays that his murders will face the full wrath of the law.