GOLD panners have invaded several suburbs in Bulawayo causing environmental degradation and raising security concerns.
Some of the suburbs affected by these illegal gold miners include Mahatshula, Emhlangeni and Killarney.
The Bulawayo City Council (BCC) and police have been battling to rid the city of these gold panners who operate at night under the cover of darkness.
Mahatshula residents said they were now living in fear as some of the panners were digging pits close to their houses in search of the precious mineral.
“We fear they will soon move into our yards searching for this gold and some residents who have tried to stop them have been threatened. We are worried about our security as they move in gangs and most of the time they will be drunk and rowdy,” said a Mahatshula resident, who preferred not to be named.
The residents said they have reported these illegal activities to the Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Cde Judith Ncube.
Minister Ncube confirmed receiving the reports and said she has engaged council.
“I have received the complaints from residents who are saying that gold panners are now operating in Mahatshula suburb.
“The residents are worried that these panners will end up invading their properties. I have since engaged the City of Bulawayo and asked them to address the problem,” said Minister Ncube.
BCC Housing and Community Services director Mr Dictor Khumalo said the council is facing serious problems as a result of gold panning activities.
“We have been battling to remove these illegal gold miners in many areas that include Killarney and Emhlangeni suburbs. It’s not something new but we are getting sporadic reports here and there.
“Just yesterday I sent a team to verify in Killarney and we have received reports from other suburbs,” said Mr Khumalo.
He said gold panning activities were devaluing some of the city’s residential properties.
“It is a big problem because we are talking of environmental degradation of municipal land. We are talking about the removal of vegetation. We are talking about the creation of pits that are dangerous to residents. We are talking about undesirable elements within the community because gold panners come in different forms and backgrounds.
“So, it’s a challenge also in terms of security to people’s properties hence we need to work with the police, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and other partners so that we conduct joint operations. When we get reports like these, we also alert Government departments,” he said.
Mr Khumalo said council has licensed several small-scale miners at its Aisleby Farm.
“We are doing licensing in a responsible manner in the sense that we have identified an area which we can licence and monitor to ensure that operations are as per lease agreements,” said Mr Khumalo.
BCC is not the only institution having problems with illegal gold miners.
In May, the National Railways of Zimbabwe said it was losing millions of dollars annually to gold panners, who vandalise its railway infrastructure while panning for gold.
Gold panners operating at Matopos Research Institute Farm were reported to be threatening international research work aimed at improving agriculture in Southern Africa and beyond.
Their activities are not only causing land degradation but are also affecting studies on crops and killing livestock.
Police have conducted several raids and arrested illegal gold miners but it seems this is not deterrent enough.