Cletus Mushanawani and Daniel Chigunwe
The closure of Jumbo Mine by Metallon Gold last year has resulted in an influx of artisanal miners from the length and breadth of the country, with vendors cashing in on US dollars circulating in the area.
Last year, the country's biggest gold producer put the mine under care and maintenance, leaving hundreds of workers jobless.
Mazowe Inn Bus Stop along Harare-Bindura Road is now a hive of activity with people joining the Jumbo Mine gold rush.
Some are smiling all the way to beerhalls, while lives have been lost due to clashes between the artisanal miners, especially the notorious machete wielding gangs.
In May, nine artisanal miners were killed while two others were seriously injured in an explosion at the mine, after a syndicate failed to communicate that it was detonating explosives underground.
While the artisanal miners will be sweating it out in the shafts, thousands of vendors from as far as Harare will be on standby to sell various wares ranging from drinking water, clothes, condoms, electronic gadgets and cooked food.
Business is booming for them and with each passing day, the number of vendors is increasing.
"Jumbo Mine is now the place to be these days. You are assured of good business. Whatever you bring here is sold out. These artisanal miners spend as if there is no tomorrow. Life has changed for the better for us.
"Competition is now high among us as we have now people streaming from as far as Harare, Chinhoyi, Norton, Chitungwiza and many places to trade their wares here," said a popular Jumbo vendor, Ms Netsai Manokoro.
While some commute on a daily basis, boarding cheap open trucks, some spend days and nights selling their stuff before returning home for restocking.
"At times we spend days here, not sleeping, but selling even during the night since many of the illegal artisanal miners are usually active at night when they will be underground.
"When we commute, we prefer using haulage trucks as the fares are negotiable and cheap. With haulage trucks, we are also able to carry bigger consignment of our wares. As long as the panners are here, we will continue coming because that is where the money is," she said.
A dealer, Cedrick Makanda said the other reason behind the high influx of vendors at Jumbo Mine is the availability of cash as well as US dollars.
"Basically, all transactions at the gold fields of Mazowe are done in cash and US dollars. This is because many illegal artisanal miners shun electronic transactions.
"Makorokoza rarely move around with mobile phones. When they do, they are usually off, hence they prioritise the use of cash when buying which is the other reason why vendors are flocking there," he said.
While money is flowing at Jumbo Mine, it is not easy to be a woman vendor among the makorokozas as most of them utter vulgar words and at times sexually harass women.
"One has to be both strong and wise to survive here. It is a jungle littered with minefields. You can be sexually harassed by these vendors. We want the money, but this is coming with risks.
"We are subjected to all forms of harassment and end up regretting being in this line of business," said another Mvurwi vendor, Memory Karengo.
Some of the vendors are now doubling up as sex workers and this has resulted in the rise in sexually-transmitted diseases in Mazowe District.
"Several vendors at Jumbo are being baited by the money the artisanal miners flash around. They end up being thigh vendors and this has resulted in an increase in STIs," said Tatenda Chigova.
According to statistics from the National Aids Council, Mazowe District has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the province of 16.4 percent.
Mashonaland Central National Aids Council provincial manager Mr Edgar Muzulu said there was need for people in these areas to be educated about HIV and AIDS, adding that the focus was now on dealing with the difficult populations in artisanal gold mining areas to further reduce the spread of the disease.
"Artisanal mining areas like Jumbo Mine in Mazowe and Mukaradzi in Mt Darwin top the list on facilitating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and new infections in Mashonaland Central Province because they attract a lot of people due to the availability of foreign currency that is generated from mining activities taking place there.
"The focus is now on dealing with the difficult populations like artisanal gold mining areas to further reduce the spread of the disease as it seems to be following the Great Dyke nationally due to the artisanal mining activities that are taking place there that attracts a lot of people," he said.
Besides bringing health challenges to Mazowe District, the convergence of the illegal artisanal miners has resulted in a rise of the crime rate.
Police has so far arrested 53 illegal artisanal miners and impounded 27 vehicles as they move in to get rid of criminal elements and bring sanity to the mining sector. Some of the impounded vehicles that were parked at Mazowe Police Station during a tour of the mine on Wednesday are reported to have been used to transport illegal substances such as mbanje into the mining area, with some of them being used to carry out criminal activities such as armed robberies.
On Wednesday last week, eight of the illegal artisanal miners were still being interrogated by the police when The Herald visited Mazowe Police Station.
Mashonaland Central provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Milton Mundembe said the blitz on illegal artisanal mining areas is expected to clear some of the pending unsolved criminal cases being reported at the mines across the province.
We managed to arrest 10 illegal miners at Kitsiyatota during a blitz from November 16 and 19. We also arrested 36 people at Jumbo (Mazowe) Mine during the same period.
We have also managed to impound 27 vehicles which will be released after being cleared by the police. We hope the arrests will help us to clear some of the outstanding cases of armed robbery committed using these kind of vehicles which have no proper registration," he said.
The high crime rate is now a thorn in the flesh of the provincial leadership which is calling for proper mining to commence at the mine.
In a recent no-holds barred meeting in Mazowe, provincial chairman, Cde Kazembe Kazembe said the situation on the ground is worrisome as the notorious artisanal miners were causing a reign of terror especially in Bindura, Concession, Glendale and Shamva.
"The levels of lawlessness in this province is now alarming. We have more than 5 000 people especially here in Mazowe doing illegal mining and it is proving to be a challenge for the police to effectively deal with this swelling number of people," he said.
"We recently had a meeting with all stakeholders and the issue of illegal mining activities was topical. People are dying here. The local leadership told us that eight people had died, but police said the number is five. Whether eight or five, but the bottom line is that people are dying. This is not acceptable because the lawlessness is just getting out of hand.
"The armed illegal miners are moving in groups of between 10 and 15 people, even up to 20. They are harassing residents especially women in Glendale. They are also harassing vendors, grabbing their wares in the process."
He added: "Blood is being shed everywhere, with people being heartlessly murdered."
Cde Kazembe called for the total closure of Jumbo (Mazowe) Mine until sanity returns.
"If sanity is not restored, nothing will be left as all the resources will be looted. We are talking of devolution and Mashonaland Central will be left with nothing to show for its vast mineral resources if this lawlessness continues unabated," he said.
"Mining operations especially at Jumbo (Mazowe) Mine should be resuscitated. If there is no proper mining, illegal activities and deaths will continues.
"Most of the deaths are being recorded in mining shafts where the illegal miners usually clash and as police, it is difficult for us to be in the shafts monitoring their activities."