Machete gangs have wreaked havoc in the small scale mining industry and in rare reported cases have small-scale miners succeeded in foiling machete gang’s attacks.
Ongoing blitz from the Police has had machete gang leaders going underground in fear of the long arm of the law making the industry much much safer. A Kadoma menace machete gang known as Ziga went viral early this year with the gang showing off their small loot armed to the teeth with machetes, swords, and knives on video. The video got over 13 000 views on the Mining Zimbabwe YouTube channel. The fearsome video attracted attention from the Police, saw the gang leader getting arrested in Rushinga 385km away a few hours after it surfaced.
Small-scale miners definitely need to boost their security in order to minimise the risk of getting easily robbed by the so-called Machete gangs or Mashurugwi as they are popularly known countrywide. The gold they steal is believed to be smuggled into South Africa where the precious commodity fetches a higher price and is paid in a more preferred currency to our local dollar.
Below are some of the methods to safeguard your mining claims.
1 Your production should be your secret
Retired Chief Inspector Elia Sungiso said that “Machete gangs” are not prophets. They are fed with information from within for them to strike. Their modus operandi is they get tipped on mining claims performing well and they ask for names for easy access to the target site. Suspects in such cases are disgruntled workers working at target mines who will, in turn, be given a “cut” (share of the loot). It is highly advisable that mine owners vet their workers and pay decent rates. They should also inform workers on the dangers and risks of discussing mine performance outside work zone.
- Secure your claims (fencing)
Miners should make it a habit of fencing their operations and control access to their operations. It takes seconds for machete gangs to access open operations and fighting them off is usually impossible as they pounce unannounced and in large numbers. Should there be no security guards available resting mineworkers can take turns to monitor entry points.
Miners can install a cheap CCTV system to monitor their operations and entry points. In this digital age, CCTV can be monitored remotely on multiple devices. An example is before allowing access to unfamiliar faces at entry points the site manager, foreman or owner can log onto the CCTV and check if they know whoever is at the gates. If they sense trouble they can raise alarm. In case perpetrators breach perimeter fence undetected CCTV can help identify the suspects after they are gone. All this can cost under US$300.
4.Pay fair wages and treat workers well
It’s a well know secret that machete gangs get their information from within the targeted operations. The information usually comes from disgruntled workers who will get paid a commission or “cut” for snitching. Some mine owners from all races are known to ill-treat their workers with a number of It’s a well know secret that machete gangs get their information from within the targeted operations. The information usually comes from disgruntled workers who will get paid a commission or “cut” for snitching. Some mine owners from all races are known to ill-treat their workers with a number of videos online of miners physically assaulting workers. This is an excellent recipy for having workers trading inside information.
- Hire a security company
Miners should hire armed guards who have training in unarmed defence patrolling their areas. The upside of Zimbabwean security companies is the law clearly stipulates they should only be owned by ex-servicemen/ women from the Police, Army or Prison service meaning a security company’s guards can be adequately trained.
On request, Security companies can provide experienced armed personnel who usually succeed in apprehending trespassing elements. Those employed as Guards should have a clean criminal record, vetted by the Police.
- Unknown vehicles with lots of people is a sign of danger. Create relationships with local communities, headmen etc
Mines are usually located in remote areas. It is an added advantage to have miners familiarise themselves with villagers and village heads and exchange contact numbers. It is highly important to know who’s who as it may be an ordinary villager that may be able to raise alarm when you cannot. The more villagers are familiar with operating miners in their areas the easier it is to notice unfamiliar vehicles and faces. A good example is in the Mukaradzi area where a machete gang was apprehended after miners and locals in the area got suspicious seeing an unfamiliar vehicle and unfamiliar faces prompting the miners to seek Police assistance.
- Be familiar with your local Police and Emergency hotlines and local miners WhatsApp groups
In case of suspicion, the Police are the quickest way to stop a machete attack. These days the Police have WhatsApp hotlines it is highly advisable for anyone venturing into mining to ensure they have contacts to their nearest police station and join local miners’ WhatsApp groups. This makes it easy for Police to pinpoint the location of a distress signal and easy assistance from local miners.
Mount Darwin Police stopped an almost machete victim mine after a quick tip-off. Police responded swiftly, searched the gang of eight and four machetes, four okapi knives were discovered in the boot of a Toyota Wish vehicle they were using. On further interrogation, the gang confessed to being behind the spate of attacks in Shamva, Mazowe and behind the stabbing of soldiers in Bindura. The gang was jailed.
- In case of attack stay calm usually, you are out-numbered
Machete-wielding criminals as we saw with the Ziga machete gang who numbered over 40 outnumber small-scale miners at even the largest operation. If you are outnumbered and not armed it is highly advisable to comply with the gangs.
- Only Hire vetted workers
With the spate of robberies that escalated last year it is important to hire people with a clean criminal record.
Workers should have fingerprints vetted by the Police, produce ID copy and have traceable references. This is a process that the majority of ASM take for granted however with the spat of robberies happening it is of paramount importance that you trust who works for you.
- Avoid working at night
Its common knowledge that evil lurks at night. If you do not have adequate security and lighting working at night increases risk.
Written by Chief Inspector E. Sungiso (retired). He has trained thousands of Police recruits who graduated into full-time servicemen and women. He can be contacted on [email protected]
This article first appeared in the Mining Zimbabwe Magazine February 2020 issue