Midlands Bureau Chief
A section of Shurugwi-Zvishavane Road at the famous Boterekwa escarpment last Friday caved in and formed a huge crater owing to tunnels dug over the years underneath by small-scale gold miners.
The damage threatens motorists and haulage trucks travelling between Zvishavane and Gweru.
The Transport and Infrastructure Development Ministry has moved on to the site and is filling the crater to avert accidents.
Since 2014, environmentalists have warned that illegal gold mining and panning in gorges along the scenic route, the Fernie Creek Pass, popularly known as Boterekwa, were posing a risk to motorists as the road faced collapse.
The beautiful freshwater streams and diverse plant and bird species along the route have been affected by water pollution and land degradation as trees and vegetation in the valley are now covered by heaps of soil.
In 2014, Ministry of Transport engineers patched what was suspected to be an opening to a tunnel in the middle of the highway.
Now, a section of the road collapsed after illegal gold panners in the area dug a 15m-deep and 7m-wide cross-cut tunnel under the road.
Shurugwi district administrator, Mr Langton Mupeta, said the area where the road has collapsed is called “danger zone” by locals.
The point of collapse is at the end of the 8km section as one heads out of the Boterekwa escarpment going towards Zvishavane.
“Activities of gold panners over the years have contributed to the collapse of a section of the road. There are tunnels running underneath the road and they need to be filled with concrete. I am happy to note that the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development and JR Goddard employees are working on the section now,” said Mr Mupeta.
He said the illegal miners who dug the tunnel had abandoned the tunnels.
“They have vanished because they know what they have been doing is wrong. They have been destroying our infrastructure over the years and Boterekwa is now a pale shadow of its former self,” he said.
Shurugwi residents said the illegal miners have for a long time been a threat to their livelihoods as they were digging all over the place without any regard to the environment.
Mr Jameson Gumbo said: “All they care about is gold and violence. Now our road is collapsing.”
Midlands Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Larry Mavima said he was shocked that gold panning was threatening to destroy a section of the busy road, which will affect socio-economic activities.
“As Government we are very concerned by the activities of the artisanal and illegal miners who continue to wantonly destroy critical infrastructure for a few pennies of gold.
“We are going to embark on an aggressive operation to flush out these malcontents and we also plead with members of the community to help us stop this infrastructure destruction by informing the authorities as and when they see illegal and dangerous activities such as this,” said Minister Mavima.
Tunnels can be seen under the road.
The artisanal miners seem to have deserted the area following an increase in traffic from Government officials from different ministries who are assessing the damage.