A group of 14 gold panners were set free from Hwange Remand Prison last Friday, following a major outcry from residents in Binga district who accused the police of targeting only those without ZANU PF cards.
A total of 16 had initially been arrested following accusations that they were "picking up pebbles" along the Shangani River, where many local unemployed villagers pan for gold and sell to ZANU PF contacts.
But according to SW Radio Africa correspondent Lionel Saungweme, two of them had already been convicted. Jabulani Tshuma and Tymon Munenge of Lubimbi in Binga District are now serving a two year sentence after conviction by a Hwange Magistrate.
Saungweme said the local community, led by MDC-T Councillor Temba Toonse Kunjulu, accused the police of making partisan arrests and targeting only those gold panners without ZANU PF cards. With no jobs in the area, panning has become the only means of survival for many.
The community also insists that Councillor Siphiwe Mafuwe be arrested for buying gold from illegal panners. Mafuwe is well known as a gold dealer in Binga district.
Saungweme said: "The argument from residents is that the gold is a national resource that should not be used on a partisan basis. The release of the 14 was a strategic move by the police and ZANU PF, seeing that there is an election just around the corner."
Our correspondent also pointed to a resolution made by ZANU PF at their recent annual conference in Gweru, which said gold panners should not be arrested as they are only exploiting a national resource that belongs to Zimbabweans.
"In Zimbabwe areas with minerals are now secured like military barracks. Only people with ZANU PF cards are allowed access to these areas. People without ZANU PF cards are arrested and imprisoned," Saungweme said.
ZANU PF has also been distributing maize seed under a presidential programme meant for all Zimbabweans. But reports from around the country indicate that only those with ZANU PF cards are being chosen to receive the much needed food.