Gold-mining violence in Zimbabwe is driven by a perfect storm of misguided policy and corruption.

Violence surrounding Zimbabwe’s gold sector has reached alarming new heights as multiple incidents in the final weeks of 2019 and early 2020 have led to the death and injury of several miners, police officers, gold buyers and ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire.1 In what has been described as a war raging in the country’s goldfields,2 gangs of artisanal miners, primarily armed with machetes, have been battling for control of mining areas, the gold trade and other groups’ finds of the pre­cious metal.

Much of the violence has been concentrated in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s home province of the Midlands, in particular around the town of Kwekwe. Among the most notorious of the violent gangs is one known as al-Shabaab, named for the Somali militant group (though not related to that group or to the similarly named insurgency in northern Mozambique). The Zimbabwe Peace Project, a civil-society organization, found that between August and October 2019, 105 murders were reported in the area surrounding Kadoma alone, along with 221 cases of assaults at mines.3 A further 24 murders and 87 assaults were also connected to the mining violence in Kadoma, while media reporting suggests the violence continues unabated. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission publicly condemned the violence in late December.4

The underlying drivers of the bloodshed are hugely complex. Analysis from the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association has linked it to the severe drought in Zimbabwe, which has driven people in farming communities struggling to make ends meet towards mining as a more lucrative alternative.5 In the context of Zimbabwe’s ailing economy and ongoing currency crisis, the gold trade provides ready access to highly prized US dollars. But two other factors are at the forefront of this issue: policy changes relating to how Zimbabwe’s state gold buyer, Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR), purchases gold from artisanal and small-scale miners, and accusations of high-level members of the ZANU-PF leadership having corrupt interests in illegal mining operations.

Field research conducted on behalf of the GI-TOC in 2018 into crime and corruption related to artisanal gold mining – which included interviews with miners, gold buyers and custom gold millers, as well as officials from government institutions, including FPR, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, and the Ministry of Mining and Mining Development – may be able to contextualize and explain the origins of the rising violence seen today.

Map of gold deposits in Zimbabwe, Fidelity Printers and Refineries gold-buying centres, and recent major incidents of violence related to gold mining

Figure 1 Map of gold deposits in Zimbabwe, Fidelity Printers and Refineries gold-buying centres, and recent major incidents of violence related to gold mining

SOURCES: AllAfrica; Bulawayo 24; The Chronicle; The Herald; Zimbabwe Peace Project, ZimEye, 11 October 2019–17 January 2020.

Policy change and its darker consequences

Since 2015, the government of Zimbabwe has sought to decriminalize artisanal gold mining. Key institutions in government have been keen to champion responsible and sustainable mining practices, in an effort to unlock the sector’s potential as a form of rural development. Civil-society groups such as the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association have argued that inclusion of small-scale miners in policymaking, and efforts to formalize their role, can help share the benefits of natural resources with communities who have, for many years, been excluded from the profits that such resources bring.

In the move towards decriminalization, FPR has, in recent years, begun to buy gold on a ‘no questions asked’ basis, meaning no documentation is needed to prove that the gold was mined legally. This approach is intended to help the country earn more from gold exports through artisanal mining and to reduce the proportion of artisanally mined gold that is illegally smuggled out of the country. Investors in large-scale mining operations have, in recent years, shunned Zimbabwe as an unattractive site for investment – another motivation to capture a greater percentage of artisanal and small-scale production.6

Gold deliveries to FPR, 2015 to mid-2019, by class of producer

Figure 2 Gold deliveries to FPR, 2015 to mid-2019, by class of producer

NOTE: ‘Secondary producers’ refers to gold produced as a by-product of other mining processes, such as platinum production. Deliveries for secondary producers for January to June 2019 are not yet available.
SOURCES: Jan-June 2019: Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, 2019 Mid-Term Monetary Policy Statement, p 19,; 2016–2018: Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe, 2018 Annual Report, p 11,; 2015: Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe, 2016 Annual Report, p 11,

From a purely economic perspective, this approach has been a success: Zimbabwe’s gold production has been on the rise, largely driven by the buoyant artisanal mining sector. During Zimbabwe’s peak gold production of 27 tonnes in 1999, the artisanal and small-scale gold mining contribution was a meagre 5%,7 with large-scale mining anchoring national gold output. In contrast, in 2017, small-scale mining accounted for 53% of output (see Figure 2).8

However, although this policy encourages the flow of gold to the formal market, it has helped perpetuate criminality by allowing gold linked to illegality, violence and corruption to be easily laundered. This has led to a free-for-all in which armed groups compete for con­­­trol of gold production in the knowledge that the gold will be readily received by FPR with no questions asked.

High-level political protection for illegal mining

In reporting on the recent spate of attacks, media organizations, legislators and civil society have consistently pointed to high-level members of the ruling ZANU-PF party, arguing that their illicit interests are behind the lack of government action to curb the violence.9 Several members of parliament (MPs) and ministers have been accused of participating in the illegal mining and in the control of the violent gangs.

ZANU-PF MP Dexter Nduna, along with another party official and a police officer, appeared in court in early January accused of leading illegal gold mining at a site in Chegutu, a day before a miner was fatally shot by police.10 According to the allegations, Nduna and his associates put pressure on local police not to investigate the incident. State security minister Owen Ncube, a close ally of President Mnangagwa, was also accused by residents of the Midlands province of leading the al-Shabaab gang in October 2019.11 These allegations date back to 2012.12 In April 2019, two court orders were issued to former ZANU-PF MP Vongai Mupereri to desist from leading gangs of illegal miners into the Gaika mine in Kwekwe.13 Despite being threatened with imprisonment for contempt of court, Mupereri continued to breach the court order.14

Our fieldwork found that, as a lucrative informal sector, artisanal mining in Zimbabwe is systematically exploited by political actors, both for their own financial gain and as a means of securing political power and patronage.15 Many high-level actors in ZANU-PF party structures were reported to have links to the mining gangs and to reap financial benefits from the mining in return for offering miners protection from police investigations.16 In turn, miners are incentivized to become active members of the party structures to benefit from this protection.17 In the words of one interviewee, the party does not just have supporters, but ‘clients’. Corrupt policymakers are therefore incentivized to shape regulations for the benefit of artisanal mining; this has become a major election issue.

Exploitation of development measures

In addition to protecting illicit interests in the gold sector, political actors have exploited sustainable-development policies for their personal gain. The Gold Development Initiative Facility was established to help gold mining operations transition into the formal, legal sector. In 2017, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe disbursed US$74 million;18 the budget for 2018 was doubled to US$150 million.19 However, delivery of the funds has been reported to perpetuate corruption, including nepotism. A meagre number of miners have benefited from the facility, while politically connected individuals, some of whom do not even have a history of gold mining, are alleged to have been awarded contracts in the millions. As such, rather than providing a solution, this and other development funds have exacerbated the conditions fuelling the violence.

While corruption and misguided policy choices such as the ‘no questions asked’ gold-buying policy are two distinct factors related to the violent competition over gold mining, they are intertwined, as interests in artisanal gold mining shape party support, election issues, and, ultimately, policy.


  1. Nqobile Tshili, Bulawayo rangers shoot 3 illegal gold panners, Chronicle, 7 January 2020,; Darlington Mwashita, Police kill violent panner, injure 5 others, Newsday, 7 January 2020,; Simbarashe Sithole, ‘MaShurugwi’ gang butcher cop in machete wars, Newsday, 30 December 2019,; New Zimbabwe, Police ban illegal gold mining as Kadoma cop killers arrested, 1 January 2020,; Robert Tapfumaneyi, ‘MaShurugwi’ hack Mvuma gold buyer to death, New Zimbabwe, 3 January 2020,; New Zimbabwe, Machete wielding gangs: new threat to Zimbabwe’s panning gold, 5 January 2020,

  2. Cyril Zenda, Who is behind machete killings in Zimbabwe’s goldfields?, Fair Planet, 9 December 2019,’s-goldfields/

  3. Zimbabwe Peace Project, Who will protect citizens from their ‘supposed’ protectors?, Monthly monitoring report, October 2019,

  4. ZimEye, ZHRC condemns attack on police officer by ‘MaShurugwi’, 30 December 2019,

  5. Machete-wielding gangs: new threat to Zimbabwe’s panning gold, New Zimbabwe, 5 January 2020,

  6. Machete-wielding gangs hold Zim mines hostage, New Zimbabwe, 2 January 2020,

  7. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Monetary Policy Statement, August 2015, p 52,

  8. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Monetary Policy Statement January 2018, p 15,

  9. Kitsepile Nyathi, Gruesome evidence jolts Zimbabwe to act on organised mining gangs, East African,15 December 2019,

  10. MP Nduna in court for illegal gold mining, Chronicle, 8 January 2020,

  11. Everson Mushava and Simbarashe Sithole, Minister fingered in machete wars, Nehanda Radio, 11 October 2019,

  12. Why the US imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe’s state security minister Owen Ncube, Nehanda Radio, 29 October 2019,

  13. Chief Justice Malaba orders the arrest of ZANU PF stalwart for Gaika mine invasion, Nehanda Radio,6 April 2019,

  14. Gaika Mine eviction latest: ZANU PF stalwart Mupereri ignores court order, plots re-invasion, Nehanda Radio, 15 April 2019,

  15. Interview with a civil-society member. 

  16. Interview with a legislator. 

  17. Interviews with a Kwekwe town resident and an artisanal miner. 

  18. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Monetary Policy Statement January 2018, p 47,

  19. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Monetary Policy Statement January 2018,