by BERNARD CHIKETO
CHIMANIMANI – ILLEGAL gold panners who have been pillaging sections of Chimanimani mountains for over a decade but took advantage of the Covid-19 lockdown to spread their activities across the entire mountain range have now completely destroyed a key heritage site – the bubbling spring.
The sacred freshwater spring, with rich historical significance to the country’s liberation struggle, was targeted in the belief that its sacredness also meant it was sitting on huge gold deposits.
Award-winning local tour guide and Chimanimani Tourist Association (CTA) vice chairperson Collen Sibanda said the bubbling springs were a victim of widespread condonation of illegal mining activities in the mountains.
“This is something we always feared would one day happen in the many years we have been fighting these illegal mining activities. Unfortunately not enough was done and we have lost this crucial heritage site,” Sibanda told Madzimbahwe Explorer.
The bubbling spring was used as a divination portal by those who were seeking to join the liberation struggle.
“One would stand before it and if it stopped bubbling then the person would turn back home as it would mean they would suffer bad fate if they proceeded,” he said.
Sibanda has been fighting illegal mining activities in the mountains for years and two years ago forced to flee his home in Shiri after suspected illegal artisanal gold panners whose syndicates with Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks) officials in the mountains he had exposed torched a hut in which his three sons were sleeping in.
He had to relocate to Chimanimani town.
Sibanda was integral to an internal undercover investigation of the issues by Zimparks which produced a damning report entitled ‘Chimanimani Gold Panning Report 1st to 8 August 2017’ which was never made public.
The investigation had been sanctioned after CTA took evidence to Parks Head Office, then local MP Samuel Undenge, then Tourism minister Walter Mzembi as well as then Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri.
Cornered to look into the issue, a multi-stakeholder’s team was dispatched to look into the issue while a two-member undercover investigation was also assigned to look into the allegations.
The investigation laid bare what had been alleged although the report does not confirm the true extent of the syndicate within the parastatal it hints at some people from Parks Head Office being involved.
The report clearly states its mission as being “to investigate reports of gold panning on Chimanimani Heritage Mountains; to establish whether ZPWMA rangers are involved in gold panning and its syndicates; and, to determine the damage caused to the natural ecosystem.”
The investigation targeted Chimanimani village, Ngangu, Charleswood estate, Skeleton Pass and Southern Lakes where the illegal activities were being conducted.
Most telling the report clearly admits that the custodians of the mountains which have everything from bubbling springs, caves, rock painting, waterfalls and challenging hiking trails as well as game had gone rogue.
It established ‘beyond doubt’ that its officials are running illegal gold mining syndicates that are pillaging the mountain range – tearing up springs, and poisoning river sources with mercury as well as how their lavish spending of the loot.
“Our rangers dared to trade the sacred Chimanimani Mountains,” it states.