Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office has distanced the Zanu PF leader from the bloody clashes over the control of one of Manicaland’s richest gold mines.
Pedzai Scott Sakupwanya, a gold dealer considered to be close to the first family, is accused of terrorising Redwing Mining Company (RMC) workers and members of the local community in Penhalonga using Mnangagwa’s name.
Redwing is located 20km northeast of Mutare in Mutasa district and 265km southeast of Harare.
The workers, community members and artisanal miners who are not happy with Sakupwanya’s Betterbrands Mining Company operating at the embattled RMC gold mine say the businessman, who has often been seen in the company of Mnangagwa’s sons, boasts that he is above the law.
Some claimed that he boasted that the gold claims he was alleged to have grabbed from RMC belonged to Mnangagwa, who allegedly mills the precious mineral at his Precabe farm in Kwekwe.
Sakupwanya allegedly hired illegal gold miners — commonly known as Mashurugwi for their violent behaviour — from Kwekwe, the president’s home town, to terrorise the RMC workers, informal miners and villagers after a decision to kick Betterbrands off the Redwing mine had been made.
Recently, a video emerged of the MaShurugwi using thick sticks to beat up informal miners,who lay face down on the ground, accusing them of having stolen gold from Betterbrands.
Sakupwanya donated 100 tonnes of maize to Mnangagwa last year.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba has came out guns blazing and directly challenged Sakupwanya to prove his business links with Mnangagwa.
“It’s actually very unseemly for anyone to confine him (Mnangagwa) to any particular mining proposition,” Charamba told The Standard.
“There has been a serious level of name-dropping by people, who are trying to ride rough-shod over the law in the name of the leadership.
“We take a very dim view of such personalities and in the event that we catch up with them, those guys will rot in jail.”
He continued: “Tell that Sakupwanya that, really, he must look at his articles of association and see if the president is a shareholder (in Betterbrands),”
Sakupwanya, did not respond to calls and WhatsApp messages sent to him despite reading them.
The controversial gold seeker caught public attention last year when he posed in photographs with gold ingots worth millions of dollars, amid speculation that he was a gold smuggler.
Fidelity Printers, the government-owned unit that buys, processes and markets the mineral, however, defended him as a legitimate gold producer.
The flamboyant Sakupwanya, who drives around in flashy cars, was among prominent people who bought many copies of Mnangagwa’s biography, A Life of Sacrifice, which was authored by former opposition leader, Eddie Cross at its launch in August this year.
Some eight months ago, Sakupwanya looked like he would be arrested for illegally grabbing 132 gold mining blocks from RMC through Betterbrands.
He was accused of having connived with the then judicial manager of the troubled mine, Cecil Madondo, to fraudulently transfer the gold claims to Betterbrands.
While Madondo was arrested and taken to court over the case, Sakupwanya — a ruling Zanu PF loyalist who is understood to harbour the ambition to run as a councillor in Harare’s Mabvuku suburb in the 2023 elections — has remained scot-free.
A rival miner, Probadek Investments, was awarded the same blocks in October 2020 and reportedly invested US$300 000 into the gold project at RMC, which needed a rescue plan through a new investor.
Betterbrands, according to court records, mysteriously signed for the same claims two months later and reportedly paid only US$50 000 instead of the US$3 million agreed with Madondo, whose case is still pending.
This double-allocation is what has caused the most recent tiff between Betterbrands, and RMC shareholders dominated by its workers and the local community who all want Sakupwanya’s company out.
James Mupfumi, the director of Centre for Resource Development, estimated that ongoing gold mining activities by artisanal miners at Redwing had resulted in the creation of 5 000 open pits even though extraction of the mineral must be underground.
Betterbrands commenced the harmful surface mining in late 2020 after RMC was put under care and maintenance.
Subsequently, a decision was made to put it under a corporate rescue plan, after which Probadek signed for the claims that were then grabbed by Betterbrands on a seven-year lease.
Recently, the police visited Redwing to quell clashes between the Sakupwanya-backed informal miners on one hand and the RMC workers and community members on the other, but the MaShurugwi militias defied the law enforcers, allegedly claiming that Mnangagwa had authorised then to mine in the area.
Winstone Makoni, the Penhalonga Residents and Rate Payers Trust chairperson confirmed that Betterbrands employees hid behind the president’s name. He also complained that they were causing extensive damage to the environment.
“They (militia miners) are committing crimes, saying we are untouchable.
“There is a notorious group moving around in a Honda Fit that is not registered and it is terrorising people here,” he said.
On September 28 this year, the hired machete gangsters stabbed three Penhalonga youths, but no arrests were made.
Clington Masanga, the Penhalonga Youth Development Trust director, said: “Our youths are being attacked.
“If you try to talk to the gangsters, they drop the names of top people in government.”
Two days later, RMC workers and shareholders protested against Betterbrands, closing the entrance into the mine.
The police arrested 11 of them and took them to court but they are now out on free bail after the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights stepped in with legal assistance.
Peter Zheke, the RMC workers’ committee chairperson said a creditors meeting on September 9 resolved that Betterbrands must leave as it was failing to honour its pledge to pay the employees, who he said were owed some US$7 million.
At its peak RMC, which was owned by Metallion Gold, produced between 30kg to 50kg of gold a month.
Kingstone Chitotombe, the Environmental Management Agency’s Manicaland provincial manager confirmed that they had received complaints of serious land degradation caused by operations of Betterbrands.
“We have had complaints on land degradation and we are engaging them. We are trying to establish facts on the ground,” he said.
In a letter dated October 1, 2021 addressed to Sakupwanya, Knowledge Hofisi, the interim corporate rescue manager ordered that operations at the mine be suspended for 14 days.
“Disturbances at the mine is degenerating to unsustainable levels… On September 9, 2021, creditors and shareholders of Redwing Mining Company passed a resolution to rescind post-commencement agreements.
“We write to advise that mining operations have been suspended with immediate effect for the next 14 days…” reads part of the letter.
Minutes of the September 9 meeting held in Highlands, Harare, confirmed the position.
The minutes showed that 100% of creditors had voted in favour of cancelling the agreements that made Betterbrands proceed with mining operations at the Redwing mine.
However, investigations revealed that the Betterbrands management had from October 7, 2021 started deploying artisanal miners from Kwekwe onto the mine at night while name dropping Mnangagwa.
In an interview, Hofisi refused to comment on the alleged name-dropping. “As a creature of the High Court, at law I am obliged to pursue the rescue plan agreed on,” he said.
“Issues of name-dropping may arise, but I cannot dwell on them.”
He confirmed there was a decision to stop Betterbrands operations in Penhalonga but urged negotiations between the warring parties. Standard