Corruption, instability and violence in Zimbabwe’s gold sector.

For an estimated 1 million people in Zimbabwe, small-scale gold mining offers a means of making a living, and the industry indirectly benefits millions more.1 However, as widely seen in East and southern Africa, the informality of the sector and the desirability of gold as a commodity create an environment ripe for criminal abuse. Zimbabwe’s informal and illegal gold market, which has been in flux in recent months due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, has seen a surge of violence by gangs linked to members of the political elite who exercise corrupt control of gold-mining sites.

Disruption and recovery

The scale of the illegal gold market and informal mining in Zimbabwe means that official figures are likely to underestimate actual gold production. Based on official purchasing data, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) produced 17.5 tonnes of gold in 2019. However, it has been estimated that 50 per cent of ASGM production is lost to smuggling,2 and the true amount may be even higher.

The GI-TOC has been tracking artisanal and small-scale gold mining in Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda and South Africa, throughout 2020 as part of a new study.3

The coronavirus pandemic has caused gold prices to soar on international markets, hitting an all-time high in August. However, our research has found that the impact on informal and illegal mining has been more varied. In Zimbabwe, artisanal gold miners and traders were unable to move or sell gold further down the supply chain because of a lack of access to international markets due to lockdowns, prohibitions on transport and travel and border closures. The result was an oversupply of gold and a steep drop in local gold prices. In March 2020, gold was trading at between US$36 and US$39 per gram on the informal market in Zimbabwe, while international spot prices placed the per gram valuation of gold at US$56.4 As travel restrictions eased and gold smugglers increasingly established new routes and methods for exporting gold, supply chains reopened and local prices quickly recovered. Now reflecting international demand, gold is being traded in Zimbabwe at around US$60–US$65 per gram, reaching as high as 95–100 per cent of the international gold price as of the end of October 2020.5

Gold prices in Zimbabwe’s informal gold market by supply-chain location of transaction and compared to international spot prices for gold.

Figure 1 Gold prices in Zimbabwe’s informal gold market by supply-chain location of transaction and compared to international spot prices for gold.

Note: Gold prices were collected by field investigators who interviewed gold miners, buyers and traders. Prices of gold at mine sites (shown in blue) naturally tend to be lower than the prices recorded further down the supply chain (shown in orange), at trade hubs near mine sites or at larger cities such as Harare and Bulawayo. Gold traded in Zimbabwe’s informal gold market tends to vary between 80 and 100 per cent purity. To enable better comparison to the international spot price (shown by the purple line), we have adjusted all prices from our study to reflect price at 100 per cent purity. Our results illustrate the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on the informal gold sector, as prices were significantly below the international spot price from late April through to August, then recovered to reflect international demand.

Our research found similar disruption across East and southern Africa, where local small-scale mining collapsed due to lockdown measures and travel restrictions. The situation in neighbouring South Africa, however, stands apart from this trend, as the illegal mining sector here largely consists of miners infiltrating active and inactive commercial mines, rather than artisanal mining. Although lockdown did disrupt illegal mining operations (which often rely on support from mine employees to bring supplies into illegal miners underground), our research has found that groups of illegal miners have in recent months become more brazen in their attempts to infiltrate mine shafts.6

Violence and corruption in Zimbabwe’s gold market

The disruption caused by COVID-19 adds to exist­ing instability in Zimbabwe’s gold sector caused by widespread violence and political patronage. Our interviews with miners and gold buyers have confirmed that corruption in Zimbabwe’s gold market is endemic, with interviewees widely alleging that members of the country’s ZANU-PF political elite exercise corrupt control over the gold trade.7 When a gold rush occurs, senior politicians reportedly abuse their power to quickly secure ownership of mining rights. If they are unable to secure permits, they may employ violent machete gangs to displace small-scale miners, secure access to mine sites and in some cases, steal gold ore.8

Younger party members appear to be involved too. In the words of one gold miner from Kadoma, ‘the youth from ZANU-PF are the ones that are hungrier and more active on the ground. Whenever they hear of any highly profitable ASGM site they want a share or total control.’9

Often, if a miner finds a profitable gold site, they must share the profits with senior politicians to secure protection against the machete gangs.10 These payments may be small, regular amounts, but other times can represent the majority of the gold value, adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.11 Police and army officials have also been accused of extorting bribes from mines and processing centres known to be non-compliant with licensing regulations12 and receiving bribes from gold buyers,13 sometimes in exchange for protection or information.14

The threat posed by the machete gangs appears to be on the rise. Commonly referred to as mashurugwi, meaning people from Shurugwi, a key gold-producing district in the heart of Zimbabwe, these gangs are now a country-wide phenomenon.15 Attacks have surged in recent months: according to a November 2020 report from International Crisis Group, ‘the death toll over the past year runs into the hundreds’.16

As well as facilitating corrupt control of ASGM sites, these gangs also rob artisanal miners of their gold or money, violently displace miners from sites (substituting their own teams), extort miners and gold buyers and traders, and engage in forced labour.17 Local media have reported that female miners and successful mine sites owned by women have been targeted more than those ASGM sites run and operated by men.18 Sexual violence against these female miners has also been reported.19

The gangs are allegedly protected by high-ranking officials of the ruling ZANU-PF, including by providing gang members with immunity from arrest and pro­secution, or facilitating their release on bail. In one story from Zvishavane, a mining town in the south of Zimbabwe, a gang member who had hacked someone to death was arrested but quickly released on bail before boasting publicly to the family that he was untouchable.20 In other accounts, cases of gang violence have remained unresolved for years, with the perpetrator eventually released with little explanation.21

The same gangs have also been employed for political violence during elections, creating linkages between violent control of the gold trade, abuse of political power for personal gain and corrupt influence over democratic processes. In January 2020, the parliamentary chairperson of the Mines and Mining Committee, Edmond Mkaratigwa, reported that ongoing investigations indicate that ‘prominent people such as politicians and church leaders are running the unruly gangs to make a fortune’.22 The names of politicians, including high-ranking officials, also featured prominently in a survey of gold-mining communities by the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, a Zimbabwean NGO.23 An exiled former cabinet member has also made allegations that State Security Minister Owen ‘Mudha’ Ncube and President Emmerson Mnangagwa were implicated in investigations into a machete gang in Kwekwe in 2017.24 Ncube has publicly denied the allegation and while President Mnangagwa has not expressly done so, he has publicly condemned the machete gang violence.


  1. An estimated 1 million people are directly dependent on ASGM in Zimbabwe and a further three million are indirectly dependent. See Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, Analysis of New Gold Buying Framework in Zimbabwe with a Special Emphasis on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, 30 May 2020,

  2. Marcena Hunter, Follow the Money: Zimbabwe, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and UNIDO, April 2018,

  3. To be published in January 2021, the study identifies and analyzes informal or illicit gold supply, collates pricing data from our team of field researchers at different points in these supply chains and draws upon interviews with artisanal gold miners, traders and buyers, exporters, law-enforcement agencies and civil-society and community representatives. Cumulatively, the qualitative and quantitative data collected will show new insights into the political economy of the region’s illegal gold market. 

  4. Helen Reid and Jeff Lewis, Subsistence miners lose out as coronavirus crushes local gold prices, Reuters, 31 March 2020,

  5. Global Initiative gold-pricing research, to be released in January 2021. 

  6. Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Civil Society Observatory of Illicit Economies In Eastern And Southern Africa: Risk Bulletin 12, September–October 2020,

  7. Interviews with artisan and small-scale gold miners and gold buyers, Kwekwe, Gweru, Shurugwi, Zvishavane, Mberengwa, Bulawayo, Bubi, Gwanda, West Nicholson, Kadoma, Mazowe and Chinhoyi, June 2020. 

  8. Interview with a miner, Kwekwe, June 2020. 

  9. Interview with a miner, Kadoma, 18 June 2020. 

  10. Interviews with miners and gold buyers, Kwekwe, June 2020. 

  11. Interview with a miner, Kwekwe, June 2020. 

  12. Mukasiri Sibanda, Small-scale gold custom millers demand urgent ease of doing business reforms, Mining and Sustainable Development: articles on mineral resource governance, December 2018,

  13. Interviews with gold buyers, Kwekwe, Gweru, Shuruwgi, Zvishavane, Mberengwa, Bulawayo, Gwanda, Kadoma, Mazowe and Chinhoyi, May and June 2020. 

  14. Interview with a gold buyer, Chinhoyi, June 2020. 

  15. Grasian Mkodzongi, The rise of ‘Mashurugwi’ machete gangs and violent conflicts in Zimbabwe’s artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector, The Extractive Industries and Society, 22 October 2020,

  16. International Crisis Group, All That Glitters is Not Gold: Turmoil in Zimbabwe’s Mining Sector, 24 November 2020,

  17. Interview with a miner, Zvishavane, 7 May 2020. 

  18. Enacy Mapakame, Women miners more vulnerable to machete attacks, The Herald, 19 November 2020,; Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Zimbabwe: Women miners “hardest hit” by rampaging machete gangs targeting small scale mining sector, 4 February 2020,

  19. Melody Chikono, Zimbabwe’s women miners left vulnerable to machete-wielding gangs, Women’s Media Center, 5 June 2020,

  20. Interview, Zvishavane, June 2020. 

  21. Melody Chikono, Zimbabwe’s women miners left vulnerable to machete-wielding gangs, Women’s Media Center, 5 June 2020,

  22. Anna Chibamu, Zimbabwe: Politicians, Church Leaders Behind Mashurugwi Menace – ZANU-PF MP, All Africa, 18 January 2020,

  23. Centre for Natural Resource Governance, From Blood Diamonds to Blood Gold – a report on machete violence in Zimbabwe’s ASM gold sector, July 2020,

  24. New Zimbabwe, Moyo says police probe nailed ED as Mashurugwi godfather, 10 January 2020,

  25. Zimbabwe Republic Police, Twitter update on operation Chikorokoza Ngachipere, 29 September 2020,

  26. Machete gangs resurface, The Herald, 2 September 2020,