INTERVIEW: Veneranda Langa

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines, Edmond Mkaratigwa (Shurugwi South MP, Zanu PF), says it is the prerogative of the security services to curb the lawlessness that has become a menace in Zimbabwe’s gold mining areas, where there have been several killings by machete-wielding gangsters known as MaShurugwi.

The machete gangs have been linked to ruling Zanu PF leaders, who are alleged to be sponsoring the violence while looting the country’s gold reserves, but Mkaratigwa alleged that this was strategic lawlessness bent on disturbing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s vision of achieving a US$12 billion mining target by 2023. Below are excerpts from an interview between NewsDay (ND) senior Parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa and Mkaratigwa (EM) on legislative interventions that can help curb the violence:

ND: Do you think provisions in the current Mines and Minerals Act are sufficient to curb the MaShurugwi violence at mines?

EM: Your question is very difficult to answer because it is not the prerogative of the Mines and Mining Development ministry to curb violence in the mining sector. It remains the role of the security services to quell lawlessness in the country, especially at the level to which it has escalated.

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The Mines and Mining Development ministry recommends action, but the security forces enforce the directive. In the Mines and Minerals Act, there are gaps that provide room for conflict, which is why we have been pushing for implementation of the Computerised Cadastre System that is currently still being piloted.

ND: So what do you think is the cause of violence in mining?

EM: Unfortunately, … the violence experienced in the country appears to be strategic lawlessness that is targeted at tarnishing the country’s image, to destabilise markets of its strategic resource (gold) and ultimately, the US$12 billion target.

ND: What are the legal gaps that your committee has noted?

EM: In fact, relative to violence that I have termed low level, there is limited protection of the marginalised or vulnerable groups such as women and youths and, there has been no respect of other property rights. Mining laws appeared to be superior to other investment interests, yet land as a factor of production is vitally multi-purpose; for example, it is key to our agricultural sector too. There is also limited recognition of small-scale miners to the extent that only established companies are, to a large extent, viewed as legal against the government thrust to also nurture small-scale businesses hence the need for their formalisation.

All those factors can lead to violence in a country, but let me reiterate that this nature of violence is high level and not a result of any of the sanity issues I have noted above. The violence being perpetrated at the moment can be adequately addressed through revocation of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, implementation of which should be sufficient to put order in the mining sector and country at large.

ND: What new laws do you propose to curb mining violence?

EM: The Committee on Mines and Mining Development is pushing for amendment of the Mines and Minerals Act and there are other views that this Act needs a complete revamp than the endless patchwork.

However, with regards to violence as stated earlier, it is about our security forces tactically upping the game. This is a threat to national security, national vision as well as a resurgence of lawlessness by the enemies of the State whose agenda is yet undying. What the committee currently views as the solution to this, is to raise the level of sentencing so that it becomes more deterrent like what is prevailing to cattle rustlers that has seen cases going down drastically.

ND: As the Legislature, what is your role in curbing the MaShurugwi violence?

EM: We have a number of roles that we perform as legislators. One, we are part of the communities and we are community leaders. In that regard, we support and work with communities against these terrorists and whenever these lawless people are caught or seen, we can help to ensure justice is transparently executed on them.

I am saying that from the background that these people have been working in cahoots with some of the members of the security forces and judiciary services to the extent that corruption can save them from facing the full wrath of the law.

We are, therefore, conscientising communities to always remain alert and shun crime, as well as to always report such people to the police or nearby leadership where police posts are far away. We oversee the different ministries in which all those government departments are supposed to ensure State efficiency.

We have, therefore, always fought for the ministries to get enough budgets for their tasks and we would require from them the reasons why they are failing to fulfil their mandate both through Parliament question time, in committees and through calling for a ministerial statement from government.

We are in the process of supervising the amendment of various Acts and we consider the Bills before they are passed into law. This is a new challenge and we will consider this lesson in dealing with Bills that are on their way to Parliament with a view to avoid such eventualities in future.

The fourth point is that the inquiry, whose processes are ongoing, should come up with a report that must help today and in the future, towards eradicating seedbeds of such lawlessness on time.

ND: Are there any other witnesses to be grilled by the Mines Committee on MaShurugwi?

EM: The committee wants a full explanation from the different government ministries whose roles should lead to curbing this menace. From the Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage ministry, the Finance and Economic Development ministry, and Fidelity Printers and Refineries (Pvt) Ltd as well as the Gold Mobilisation Unit.

Dominant groups in mining areas shall also be heard, together with different representative groups such as the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) and the Chamber of Mines. Follow-ups shall be made to other government ministries whenever their participation is also found necessary, even if they have escaped our initial invitation list.

We have already stated that we will invite several stakeholders among them the police, miners themselves through their representative groups like ZMF, civic society organisations, investigative journalists (in camera where necessary), the Mines ministry and many others. However, in the course of gathering evidence, if we see the need to invite anybody who we think will enrich the enquiry, we will do so.

ND: What are the social and economic impacts of the machete violence?

EM: The citizens of Zimbabwe are being physically, psychologically and emotionally harmed, hence need for psycho-social support on affected people.

They are living in fear and many other crimes are now being imputed to this group of people by those who are also taking advantage of the widespread fears, even in urban areas.

Economically, at a personal level, citizens are losing their hard-earned wealth to these unscrupulous people, with other far-reaching consequences.

Families are losing breadwinners and their livelihoods, with downstream effects on the indigent, women and children, among other vulnerable groups and the (possibility of) food insecurity and malnutrition rising in affected areas.

ND: You are Shurugwi South MP, what impact has this violence had on your constituency?

EM: To the people of Shurugwi, this is causing some stereotypes and stigmatisation on them, which is a very dangerous trajectory that has to be reversed through deliberate name cleansing efforts.

Nationally the name of the country is put to disrepute, the government is perceived as condoning the illegality and in support of lawlessness if this continues without full abetment, hence loss of market confidence including protection of investors’ interests, reduced productivity and revenue and finally, failure to meet set international and national objectives and obligations, hence lowering the national credibility rating.