Zimbabwe could slide into anarchy as security forces battle the rising number of militia groups that have taken over informal gold mining areas where they maim and rob miners.
Since December last year, the police have arrested at least 1,800 militia members who have been attacking miners using machetes and stealing their gold ore.
The gangs — connected to politicians in the ruling party ZANU PF — have been linked to several murders across the country, and analysts say security agencies need to move faster.
The country, currently struggling with economic woes, can’t afford a new security threat especially since experts recently warned of a risk of food shortage following prolonged drought. Late last month, the police launched a crackdown against the groups after a gang killed a police officer and seriously injured another with machetes and axes.
The two police officers were caught in a crossfire after a gang raided workers at a gold mine where they were trying to steal ore.
“The country is seeing a rise in violent gang wars among artisanal miners never seen before in the history of the country,” said High Court judge Martin Makonese, while setting the agenda for the court’s legal year.
“There has been a surge in gangs going on the rampage in all provinces attacking and injuring people,” he added.
As the country’s economy continues to struggle, more unemployed youths are opting for artisanal gold mining where they are guaranteed earnings in foreign currency.
The gold sector is expected to contribute $4 billion, a third of the anticipated $12 billion earnings from the country’s mining sector.
Most of Zimbabwe’s gold comes from informal miners who are now under threat from the gangs.
“Since gold digging is almost synonymous with foreign currency, more and more people have been attracted into artisanal and small-scale mining,” said Shamiso Mtisi, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association and Kimberly Process civil society co-ordinator.
The country’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said the ruling party was behind the militias wreaking havoc in mining areas and warned that Zimbabwe faced a risk of genocide if the gangs are not stopped.