A section of the famous Boterekwa Road in Shurugwi caved in on Friday after illegal gold panners allegedly dug a series of tunnels under it over the years.
The damage threatens motorists traveling between Zvishavane and Gweru and haulage trucks traveling to Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania through Gweru from South Africa.
The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development has moved on-site and is patching a huge crater to avert a potential road traffic accident.
Since 2014, environmentalists have warned that illegal gold panning activities in the gorges along the once scenic route between Gweru and Shurugwi, Fernie Creek Pass is popularly known as Boterekwa, were posing a risk to motorists as the road faces collapse.
The beautiful freshwater streams and diverse plant and bird species along the route have been affected by water pollution and land degradation as trees and vegetation in the valley are now covered by heaps of soil.
In 2014, the Ministry of Transport engineers patched what was suspected to be an entrance to a tunnel in the middle of the highway.
Fast track to 2020, a section of the road collapsed after illegal gold panners in the area dug a 15-metre-deep and seven-metre-wide cross-cutting tunnel under the road.
Shurugwi District Administrator Mr Langton Mupeta said the area where the road collapsed is called “danger zone” by locals.
He said the point of disaster is at the end of the 8km section as one drives out of Boterekwa going towards Zvishavane.
“Activities of gold panners over the years have contributed to the collapse of a sector of the road. There are tunnels running across the road and they need to be filled with concrete. I am happy to note that the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development and J R Goddard employees are working on the section now,” said Mr Mupeta.
He said the illegal panners who dug the tunnel have fled from the area.
“They have vanished because they know what they have been doing is wrong.
“They have been destroying our infrastructure over the years and Boterekwa is now a pale shadow of its former self,” he said.
Shurugwi residents said the illegal miners have for a long time been a threat to their livelihoods.
“They are digging anywhere and everywhere. All they care about is gold and violence. Now our road is collapsing,” said Mr Jameson Gumbo.
The Midlands Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Larry Mavima said he was shocked that gold panning activities were threatening to destroy a section of the busy road — a development he said would affect socio-economic activities of the country.
He said rehabilitation works at the portion of the road and patching other portions of the road had commenced.
“As Government we are very concerned by the activities of the artisanal and illegal miners who continue to wantonly destroy critical infrastructure for a few pennies of gold. We are going to embark on an aggressive operation to flush out these malcontents and we also plead with members of the community to help us stop this infrastructure destruction by informing the authorities as and when they see illegal and dangerous activities such as this,” said Minister Mavima.
Our news crew observed that there were tunnels under the road which were dug from the both sides of the road.
The artisanal miners seem to have deserted the area following an increase in traffic from Government officials from different ministries who are assessing the damage.
To show just how ugly Boterekwa has turned out to be, Boterekwa Valley, which was famous for freshwater streams and various plant species and used to attract large numbers of tourists every year has been turned upside-down by illegal gold panners and the water is polluted.
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