Illegal gold panners cause havoc in Cowdray Park

On 28 December 2020, a fuel dealer named Blessing “Tsano” Taruona was stabbed to death by three-armed gold panners at Cowdray Park’s Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle intersection.

The suspects were later identified as Fisani Ncube (28), Bizwelihle Ncube (27) and Clifford Sibanda (25).

Tsano, as he was affectionately known, was stabbed in broad daylight at the very intersection he had been operating from as a fuel dealer for years, employing four local youths in the process.

According to close sources who witnessed the fatal assault, Tsano was attacked while trying to help a young tout who was being attacked by the panners after he defeated one of their friends in a card game.

“It was around noon and as usual, these guys (panners and touts) were playing cards at a spot that has since become dangerous for most of us who have small businesses at this intersection.

“A young tout won a game at this gambling school and took winnings of US$10 off one of the panners and it so happened it was the last cash they had.

“After realising that they no longer had any valuables to gamble with, the panners decided to take the money they lost to the tout by force,” said Prince Mawere, a close friend to the late.

He said Tsano got involved in the fight in a bid to defend the young man.

“After they thoroughly beat up the boy, Tsano stood up in his defence not knowing it was his last day on earth. He was stabbed several times on the chest by one of the panners for interfering with their business,” said Mawere.

One year after Tsano’s death, there is still no justice.

Over a year since his death, and amid claims that those who were responsible for Tsano’s murder are roaming free in society, more cases of unrest caused by gold panners are on a sharp increase.

“We hear that the suspects are not even in jail even though they were arrested at the time. What is worse is that they still come and gather here to gamble at the same spot where they killed Tsano and the police are not taking any action to stop these people from illegally gambling here,” said Mawere.

Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle is a housing section in Cowdray Park that was commissioned by the late former president Robert Mugabe in 2006 following the controversial Operation Murambatsvina, which displaced some 700 000 Zimbabweans, according to human rights groups.

But the housing programme was criticised for awarding undeserving beneficiaries leaving tens of thousands to live in makeshift homes at various locations across the country while financially constrained local authorities, struggled to provide road, water and sewer services.

Armed robbers are now using some of the incomplete houses as their operation bases.

A representative from the Garikai community residents’ association Fikile Ncube said the panners are not even documented after occupying these houses.

“Whenever someone moves into our community, we always seek that they register with us (residents association) so that we get to know who is dwelling amongst us in the community.

“However, when it comes to these gangs (panners), we face a serious problem because they don’t approach us. They just settle in and it’s difficult for us to approach them,” said Ncube.

“We are not safe here. Last year, a man from the ema15 section was stabbed to death by a panner who accused him of sleeping with his wife. As if that was enough, another gang of panners assaulted a man in his house in the midst of the night and took away his valuables.

“We have young children here; boys are being recruited by these gangs to join them at the mines. Young girls are lured as they get attracted to the money that these gangs carry.”

Ncube said as a community they have to come up with strategies of forcing out the panners in their community before things get out of hand.

“We have Mahweba sports club. This is the place where these panners meet and it’s also the same place where most of them hide, especially during the night. They also fight against each other; many cases of gang clashes were recorded at the nightspot and several deaths. This cancer that has to be cured.”

The former Ward 28 councillor Collet Ndlovu said he can’t be blamed for the actions of the panners.

“I am aware that illegal gold panners patronise my nightclub, and we treat them like any other customer.

“Cases of violence have been on the rise in Cowdray Park and we have even seen people stabbed inside our premises but we can’t be held responsible for that because these people come in as customers.

“There are several nightspots at Terminus business centre and we have always tried to engage with the police to help us enforce the laws because these boys do not behave in a bad way if police are around.

“Violence is not tolerated in any community, and those who cause unrest to citizens have to be dealt with,” said Ndlovu.

Ward 28 Councilor Kidwell Mujuru said they are aware of the unrest caused by the illegal panners in the area.  

“These are not new issues to reach my office. I hear residents crying due to unrest and violence caused by the panners every time.

“I am aware of the issue (Tsano saga) and I hear the suspects were arrested days after the incident. What is now bothering me is that these people are said to be roaming free in the same community and this traumatises residents.

“As the councillor, I will make sure that the chaos caused by the panners become a thing of the past. Police also have to act on such cases so that people in Cowdray Park find peace in the comfort of their suburb,” said Cllr Mujuru.

Bulawayo Provincial police Spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said Cowdray Park has become a crime hotspot and it’s a concern to the police.

“Cowdray Park is one of, if not the largest suburb in Bulawayo and it has for the past years, became a centre of crime.

“We have dealt with cases involving crimes that are done by the panners and we urge the community to continue working closely with us in fighting such people for they don’t have a place in the community.

“As large as it is, Cowdray Park must have its own police camp so that crime can be contained and we are working on addressing the issue,” said Inspector Ncube.

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