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January 10, 2007
Mugabe Arrests Miners, Aims For Gold

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has conducted a massive campaign of theft against gold panners in his nation, arresting as many as 20,000 of them over the last few weeks. Mugabe wants to seize control of gold supplies from people that have already been dislocated once, from the farms that used to produce both food and labor opportunities:

As many as 20,000 miners have been arrested in police raids across Zimbabwe.

Their detention, in one of the largest police actions in the country's recent history, has left thousands of family members without any support at a time of rampant inflation and a desperate shortage of maize meal, the staple food.

Many of those arrested are legally registered as miners with the mines ministry. The government has claimed it is detaining illegal gold panners selling ore on the black market and causing massive environmental damage.

Mugabe's government forces the miners to sell the ore they capture at the fixed currency rate, a policy which means that they can only get a tenth of the real value of the gold. Many do sell on the black market, and others have to mine and pan more agressively in order to make enough money to survive. As a result of these raids, families on the edge of survival even with the panning will probably not live very much longer.

Who are the panners? They are the people who worked the farms of Zimbabwe when they were under white ownership. After Mugabe seized most of the farms, the farming system fell apart, and most of the workers had no opportunities for jobs in Zimbabwe's collapsing economy. They took to gold mining and panning, not the safest of professions, by the hundreds of thousands. It's a subsistence job, regulated by Zimbabwe, but it puts the gold in the hands of the people -- and like any dictator, Mugabe cannot allow power to remain in the hands of those who might threaten his rule.

These raids and mass arrests come as no surprise. Mugabe threatened to nationalize the mining operations, at one point in 2006 insisting that he would take controlling interest in all mines without compensating the owners. He bragged at the time that those who opposed these plans would hear "Goodbye, and good luck" from his minions, and it looks like Mugabe may have been true to his word -- except that the "goodbye" comes in the form of sending people into what sounds like concentration camps, or worse. One witness talks about 1,000 detainees being left handcuffed together for days in a small fenced field for days, exposed to the rain and sun and unable to care for their basic human needs. Others have simply been shot resisting arrest, the favorite gambit of any dictator.

If the world needs to address the woes of Africa, Zimbabwe has to be one of the first places that gets attention. The real tragedies of Africa can be found in dictatorships like Mugabe's, which cause so much unnecessary famine and death. At some point, the West will have to get over being embarrassed by its colonial history and deal with the damage done by the monsters that filled the vacuum of their departures. All of the Live Aids in the world will not touch the underlying causes of famine and misery in such a fertile land.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 10, 2007 5:12 AM

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