Family savagely attacked with axes, stones, machetes and hut burnt
Fear has gripped the small community of Heany Junction Farm in Umguza District, Matabeleland North, after groups of organised criminal syndicates involved in gold panning descended on the area where they have unleashed a reign of terror.
The violent gold panners, who are believed to have come from neighbouring Mbembesi and Sigola in Umzingwane District, attack their victims at night.
In the latest incident, which occurred in the wee hours of Sunday, seven family members escaped death by a whisker after a gang of gold panners raided their homestead and savagely attacked them with axes, stones and machetes.
The robbers went on to torch one of the huts before attempting to burn the victims’ car, a Toyota Wish.
The incident comes barely two days after two other local villagers were attacked and robbed of a total of US$4 200 allegedly by the same gang.
On Sunday, the gang raided Mr Justin Siyabalandela’s homestead at Bhasini Village, Heany Farm, and torched a hut with seven people inside.
A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited the village which is about 24km from Bulawayo and victims recounted their horrific tales.
Chicks and property including cellphones, clothes and blankets, which were inside the hut were burnt to ashes.
Boulders used by the gang to commit the crime were strewn all over the yard.
Mr Siyabalandela said the gang raided his homestead shortly after 1AM and threw stones, destroying the window panes before they torched one of the grass thatched huts and over 50 chicks were burnt death.
“We were asleep when we first heard our dogs barking and my wife and I got suspicious and we woke up. Initially, we could only hear the footsteps and since it was dark, we could not see anyone,” he said.
“Later, we heard voices saying ‘bring that machete so that we strike these dogs, which are disturbing our movements’. They struck one of our dogs with a machete before throwing stones and damaging window panes.”
Mr Siyabalandela said he armed himself with a catapult and started hitting back.
“After destroying the window panes, one of the suspects tried to gain entry into our bedroom and my wife struck him with an iron bar. They then took a gum pole, which they used in removing a window frame,” he said.
The suspects tried to force open the door after striking it with an axe, but they failed.
“I was struck by a brick and fell, and they continued throwing stones as they shouted demanding money and my car keys and I refused. They tried to drain fuel from our car so that they could petrol bomb both our house and car,” said Mr Siyabalandela.
His wife, Ms Melody Hodzi failed to control her tears as she narrated how they endured two hours of what had turned into a war as the gang relentlessly attacked them.
“My husband tried to plead with them not to burn our car and that is when they demanded US$500. He offered them US$20 and threw it out of the house through the window.”
Ms Hodzi said minutes later, she noticed one of the huts in flames.
“I screamed for help and that is when neighbours came to our rescue. The suspects struck me on the leg as I was trying to rush to the burning hut where my children were stuck,” she said.
Their son, Joe, who was among the seven people trapped inside the burning hut said the gang surrounded the house threatening to strike anyone who attempted to storm out.
“We were sleeping when I overheard people speaking outside. I peeped through a small opening on the wall and observed a group of five people loitering in the yard. In no time, they started throwing stones and damaging window panes and I immediately woke up everyone,” he said.
Joe said he wrestled with one of the suspects and managed to hit him with an iron bar.
His younger brother stormed out of the hut and fled towards a neighbour’s homestead where he raised alarm.
“They continued throwing stones at us before they went to our car, which was parked in the yard. One of them destroyed the left door glass using a boulder and opened the bonnet before they tried to burn the engine,” said Joe.
“We were inside the hut and they threatened to kill anyone who would dare come out. In that moment we heard neighbours screaming and ordering everyone to get out of the hut, which was already in flames and that is how we escaped death.”
After escaping fire, Joe and his siblings managed to put out the blaze before the car had completely caught fire. The gang fled from the scene upon the arrival of neighbours.
Villagers said they are distressed with the attacks happening in the village. Ms Sifikile Moyo said the community has lost faith in law enforcement agents.
Local village head Mr Luckson Sibanda said the gangs have for the past three months been terrorising villagers.
“I was actually phoned by a local villager around 1AM alerting me about the attack at Siyabalandela’s homestead. I then mobilised some local boys and proceeded to the scene,” he said.
“Upon spotting us approaching from a distance, the gang torched one of the huts. When we arrived at the scene the robbers were carrying boulders, machetes and axes and they were threatening to attack everyone.”
Mr Sibanda said he raised alarm and directed people who were inside the burning hut to vacate.
“The suspects fled and we tried to follow their footprints but, unfortunately we lost track along the way and reported the matter to the police.
“We strongly suspect this is the same gang that attacked two villagers on Thursday last week because we managed to identify one of them with dreadlocks,” he said.
He said the suspects are also stealing villagers’ livestock. Mr Sibanda recently lost nine goats.
“I actually heard the goats bleating on that particular night as they were being stolen but out of fear of being attacked, I didn’t come out. Some of this meat is taken to illegal food markets in Bulawayo,” said Mr Sibanda.
Another wheelchair-bound victim, Mr Marvelous Mbulo said they attacked him on Thursday and robbed him of US$200 at knifepoint. They locked up the family in one of the rooms and fled.
“They came to our home at around 7pm on Thursday last week armed with knives and machetes. They demanded money at knife point and I gave them US$200,” he said.
Mr Mbulo said the suspects ransacked the house looking for more cash before they took cellphones. They also raided his tuckshop and looted groceries.
“We have tried to engage the police countless times but not even once have they responded to reports of attacks by these gangs. I believe this latest attack could have been avoided had the police attended to my report,” he said.
On the same day, they raided another villager and went away with US$4 000. They attacked the victim and stole his cellphones.
Another local village head, Mr Melusi Ncube said gold panners were involved in illegal mining activities were causing social problems within the local community.
“We are facing a serious challenge in this area where these gold panners are engaging in criminal activities. They are also involved in illegal gold panning activities in the area and causing environmental degradation,” he said.
“The gold panners are also involved in turf wars and everyday we witness clashes between these groups, some of which will be armed with spears, machetes and axes. We are now living in fear of these miners because of their violent nature.”
Mr Ncube said following the latest incident, police were deployed to the area to conduct night patrols.
“We went to the nearest police station and took police officers who spent the whole night patrolling the area. We have also mobilised locals and the neighbourhood watch committee to conduct surveillances,” he said.
Matabeleland North police spokesperson Inspector Glory Banda was not available for a comment yesterday.
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