Zimbabwe: Scramble for Hwange Coke Turns Deadly

Judge's gavel (file photo).

Zulani Mudenda of Madumabisa village 2 in Hwange says she will never forget August 22, 2020, a day which ended in tragedy.

"There was a loud gun sound and in the twinkle of an eye, I felt weak, he was so close to me, he shot me on the abdomen, tearing my stomach and exposing the intestines," said Mudenda (46).

She was coming back from work at Zambezi Gas.

Police officers were pursuing illegal coke vendors near their residence.

Mudenda said although she had seen some skirmishes, she didn't think the police would fire at her.

"When I had just passed a 3.5-tonne truck, I saw three police officers on foot," she said.

"They stopped me and I immediately complied. Without notice, a police officer wielding a gun hit me in the stomach."

Consequently, Mudenda fell on the ground, lost a lot of blood, and was admitted to the Colliery Hospital where she had a blood transfusion before being referred to Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo for further treatment.

She is one of the two women who became victims of the police shooting in Hwange when police indiscriminately shot at coke vendors at a Hwange Colliery Company dumping site.

On the same evening, Twaboni Nyoni (25), a breastfeeding mother of the same village, was also left battling for her life.

"It was in the evening while seated at home," Nyoni said. "I was hit unawares, without any involvement in the activities on coke.

"Imagine, just seated home. I was severely injured resulting in being referred to St Patrick's Hospital."

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), through their lawyer Prisca Dube, recently wrote to the officer-in-charge of Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Hwange protesting against the police conduct and demanding legal action to be taken.

Through ZLHR, the two women -- Nyoni and Mudenda -- subsequently filed an intention to sue the police.

Since the police acknowledged the sad incident and promised an investigation, no information has been availed to the victims, raising concerns the issue might have been swept under the carpet by authorities to protect the alleged offenders.

Hwange and the surrounding countryside are a centre for coal mining.

According to Hwange Colliery Company Limited, their concession has proven reserves that are estimated to last over 1 000 years, at current production levels.

Coal has been used for decades in power generation and heating various crops and minerals in Zimbabwe and abroad.

But, it is the recent developments around coke, a by-product of coal, which have left villagers and civic society organisations with questions.

The shooting, displacements, forced labour and inhumane working conditions in coke oven batteries have drawn parallels to the mining of diamonds in Chiadzwa, characterised by blood.

The incidences of residents visiting dumping sites in search of coke to sell have increased as a result of economic shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the black market, a 50 kg sack of coke sells between US$3 and US$5.

Recently, a 37-year-old woman was buried alive while extracting coke at an old mine dumpsite.

The vendors usually sell to truck drivers at the unregulated truck stop at Cindrella, Hwange.

The official price of metallurgical coke ranges from US$160 to US$300 with 50-80mm nuts fetching up to US$400 on the international market.

In 2018 Hwange Colliery Company Limited invited bids to revive its coke oven battery, which was decommissioned in 2014.

Of late, Hwange has seen a proliferation of many investors in the coke oven batteries, while residents are risking their lives for the same black rock by-product.

However, more than 95% of coke oven batteries are run by the Chinese.

These include the major ones, the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Company and Hwange Coal and Gasification Company.

Coke oven batteries are causing various challenges in Hwange.

Many residents have been arrested in coke-related activities than coal itself. Others like Zulani Mudenda and Twaboni Nyoni cheated death and were left with horrible stories to tell.

The Greater Hwange Residents Trust (GWRT) condemned the excessive use of force by law enforcement agents and urged an investigation into events leading to the shooting of the two women.

"There is a need to protect life, especially our residents," said GWRT coordinator Fidelis Chima.

"We call for a full investigation of the matter."

In an August 2020 press statement, the Centre for Natural Resources Governance condemned the use of guns to scare away unarmed informal coke vendors.

This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a nonprofit news organisation that produces hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting and analysis for the southwestern region of Matabeleland.

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