POLICE in Matabeleland North shot dead a machete wielding gang member and arrested five others after the violent mob attacked cops who were deployed to remove them from a mine they had invaded in Bubi district.
The incident occurred on Sunday at about 4.30PM.
The illegal miners had raided Mambo area’s Acute Mine owned by a proprietor only identified as Tshabangu who sought police reinforcement to remove the illegal panners.
Sources said police fired six warning shots as the illegal miners menacingly advanced towards them swinging machetes, picks and knobkerries.
“They wanted to surround the police officers. They appeared very violent,” said a witness who asked not to be named.
The panners, said the witness, dispersed when a police officer shot one of them on the shoulder and he died on the spot.
The incident comes barely a month after illegal manners surrounded police officers and hacked one of them to death in Kadoma.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “Tshabangu went to the police and made a report and he was given a reaction team. On arrival they were surrounded by a mob which started attacking them with machetes, axes and knobkerries. Police officers were attacked and as a result shots were fired resulting in the death of one of the gang members. Police officers before directing the shot at the deceased, had fired warning shots which did not deter the panners who kept on advancing. Police later arrested five suspects,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He said the name of the deceased panner was being withheld as police were still conducting investigations.
Asst Comm Nyathi identified the arrested suspects as Prince Ngwenya (37) from Silobela in the Midlands, Cosmas Moyo (34) from Nkayi, Clever Ntakana (39), Nhlanhla Ncube (34) and Orderly Nzombani from Bubi district.
He said police recovered weapons that include axes, shovels, picks, hammers, iron bars, chisels and an okapi knife.
Asst Comm Nyathi said panners should seriously heed police’s warning that no one is above the law.
“Members of the public especially machete wielding gangs should take seriously the message by the Commissioner General of Police (Godwin Matanga) that police will not tolerate acts of violence, police will not tolerate people who attack police officers who are maintaining law and order and members of the public. Definitely action will be taken against those who decide to take the law into their hands,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
Yesterday there was heavy police presence at the mine where the panner was shot dead.
Artisanal miners who operate at a nearby mine said police actions were justified.
The miners declined to be photographed for security reasons.
One of the miners said he watched the fracas as it unfolded and he could not blame the police for shooting one of the suspects.
“Their actions against the police caused this incident. They were the ones who were attacking the police. Prior to the fatal shooting, police fired several warning shots but this didn’t move them. Instead they were aggressive as they charged towards the police. I don’t know what could have stopped them except what happened. However, it’s unfortunate that a life was lost in the process,” said the miner.
Another gold miner blamed panners from other districts for the violence in the area.
“Those panners who come from other districts are the ones who cause violence. They bring machetes, axes, knives- weapons that have nothing to do with mining. We are also afraid of them and from their behaviour yesterday we concluded that they were seeking trouble. It’s not really shocking that it ended this way,” said the miner.
He said local small-scale miners should also employ locals as opposed to hiring workers from other districts who are mostly to blame for the violence.