FILABUSI, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Under the blazing sun, a group of men use picks and shovels to dig up a bushy patch of land outside Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, stopping every few seconds to scan the soil for signs of gold.
The 13 men, led by one carrying a metal detector, left open gullies all over the area in Filabusi, about 80km (50 miles) south of Bulawayo. They told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they would dig wherever their metal detectors sensed gold, clearing bush and burning grass if they had to – even on someone else’s property. None of the men had a mining permit.
“Whenever you hear of a gold rush, you know serious money is involved. People literally pick up gold nuggets,” said Thomas Ncube, one of the miners whose name has been changed to protect his identity.
With Zimbabwe going through its worst economic crisis in a decade, desperate citizens are turning to illegal gold mining to make a living, officials say, sparking fervent gold rushes that can lead to violence and drive people from their land.
The problem has gotten worse over the past year, warned Robert Msipa, a district officer with the government’s Environmental Management Agency. “In some recent cases police have (had) to set up bases, as such gold rushes are punctuated with machete violence,” he said in a phone interview from Bubi, the district he oversees in western Zimbabwe.