BULAWAYO, Friday, September 6, 1991 — Gold panners, inspite of constant police raids and harsh living conditions, continue to dig up the Umzingwane River to eke out a meagre living as drought continues to bite Matabeleland South.
According to police at West Nicholson and Colleen Bawn, hundreds of gold panners dig the Umzingwane River in search of gold dust which they sell to buyers from nearby cities and other centres.
Last week, a gold panner, Cde Oliver Mdeke (24), died when the tunnel in which he was digging for gold collapsed. Police said the incident was reported after 12 hours as most of the panners feared that they would be arrested.
Authorities in Colleen Bawn and West Nicholson expressed fears that the gold panners would soon cause irreparable damage to the environment in the area unless stern measures were taken to curb their operations.
Already some dams downstream are beginning to fill up with sand, causing water shortage problems for farmers and other commercial enterprises in West Nicholson. Early this week police from West Nicholson rounded up more than 35 gold panners at one camp along the Umzingwane River. About nine of the panners were handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department after they were found in possession of gold dust.
The Officer Commanding West Nicholson, Inspector Daniel Kawadza, said gold panning was now a chronic problem in the area. Police records show that gold panning cases in the area dated as far back as 1969.
Insp Kawadza said gold panning would continue as long as unemployment and drought persisted in the region. Panners now came from as far afield as Mberengwa, Filabusi, Kezi and Beitbridge. Although police carried out constant raids, they could not arrest the situation, he said.
The panners admitted that they were causing great environmental damage but they pointed out that it was their only source of income. They said they were not deterred by the constant police raids.