HARARE – Police in Zimbabwe have arrested more than 6 000 artisanal miners in 11 months for engaging in violence and environmental degradation, according to the deputy minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, Michael Madiro.

He was responding to legislators who had quizzed him on what police were doing to arrest the illegal gold panners’ menace in society.

Machete-wielding gangs have become a problem across the country, attacking and robbing members of the public.

Madiro said police have launched an operation to end illegal gold mining activities.

“In this regard, it is interesting to note that from March 4, 2019 to date, 6 229 illegal artisanal miners and 1 922 offenders were arrested and either made to pay fines or referred to court for possessing dangerous weapons,” said Madiro.

He said police are also conducting spot checks to arrest people found with machetes, knives, iron bars and other dangerous weapons that can be used to murder, rob and harm innocent people.

He said police have issued prohibition orders against carrying dangerous weapons as a way of curtailing violent crimes.

He said government was aware that illegal miners were not just harming citizens but the environment as well.

“I concur with him that illegal artisanal miners are not only committing violent crimes such as murder, robbery, rape and assault but are also causing serious environmental degradation.

“These encompass soil erosion, deforestation, loss of biodiversity as well as contamination of soil, ground and surface water caused by chemicals emitted from the illegal mining activities,” he said.

Madiro said police are also lobbying for deterrent penalties for the violent gold panning gangs.

“Zimbabwe Republic Police is engaging the Judiciary by its commanders at national level, provincial and district levels to impose stiffer penalties on perpetrators of violent crimes and mines and minerals offenders,” said Madiro.

“With regards to non-availability of vehicular resources at the stations, this is what the government is attending to.

There are many other stations which do not have such resources but action is being taken to make sure that we avail such vehicular resource to stations.”