Seven arrested over US$10m worth of mbanje


Seven people have since been arrested in connection with the drugs believed to have originated from Mozambique, where some peddlers are allegedly growing it on a large scale.

Nyanga District police spokesman, Assistant Inspector Cosmas Maware, confirmed the recovery and identified the suspects as Gogoda Nyamitambo (32) of St Mary’s Chitungwiza; Kedias Nyamitambo (43) of St Mary’s Chitungwiza; Wellington Nyazema (38) of Ruwa; Richard Chigango (23) of St Mary’s Chitungwiza; Edmore Mawaya (21) of St Mary’s Chitungwiza; Nomore Nyakufema (24) of Seke Chitungwiza and Njari Marowo of Mafara Village, Chief Katerere in Nyanga.

Gogoda, Kedias, Nyazema, Chigango, Mawaya and Nyakufema were not asked to plead for possessing dangerous drugs when they appeared before Nyanga magistrate, Mrs Loice Mukunyadzi on Wednesday and were remanded in custody to December 9.

Asst Insp Maware said a manhunt had since been launched for John Mlauzi who was reported to be part of the gang.Marowo who was also arrested after teaming up with three other villagers from Katerere who are still at large and stole four bags of the mbanje from where they were hidden in a gully, was on Monday convicted on his own plea of guilty for possessing dangerous drugs and was sentenced to four years imprisonment.

Mrs Mukunyadzi suspended one year of the sentence, leaving him to serve an effective three-year jail term.It is alleged that on November 15, Mlauzi teamed up with some Mozambicans, Gogoda and Kedias Nyamitambo and drove from Harare to Fombe area of Nyanga in an Isuzu KB vehicle registration number ABD 0447 to collect the mbanje. The vehicle is owned by Godoga.

"The trio arrived at Fombe around 7pm and loaded the mbanje, which was in 19x90kgs, one medium-sized monarch bag and about 25kgs sack. They then drove towards Ruwangwe Growth Point enroute to Harare. Along the way, their vehicle developed a mechanical fault near Kazozo Business Centre. This was around the early hours of November 16. They offloaded the mbanje from the vehicle and hid it in a gully about 200m from the road. Kedias and Gogoda left Mlauzi guarding the vehicle while they travelled back to Harare to buy spare parts for the broken down vehicle. While the two were looking for transport at Kazozo Business Centre, they were spotted by Constable Alidi carrying a half prop-shaft, but he did not suspect anything," he said.

Asst Insp Maware said the hidden mbanje was discovered by a villager, Thomas Makombe who was looking for firewood. He alerted a member of the Neighbourhood Watch Committee, Daniel Muromowenyoka, who made some preliminary investigations and discovered a broken down vehicle near the site of the hidden mbanje.

"Muromowenyoka approached Mlauzi who was sitting in the vehicle who took to his heels, leaving behind the vehicle keys on the ignition. Muromowenyoka took the vehicle keys, looked around the vehicle and saw loose mbanje in the vehicle and on the ground. He also observed a trail of loose mbanje from the vehicle leading to the gully where the contraband was hidden. Muromowenyoka then reported the matter to Ruwangwe Police Station who swiftly attended the scene and ambushed the suspects," he said.

Asst Insp Maware said Gogoda later returned the following day in the company of Nyazema, Chigango, Nyakufema, Mawaya and Kedias. They were travelling in a Madza SDX vehicle.

"They were arrested at a police roadblock at Ruwangwe Growth Point. Godoga and Kedias were identified by Cst Alidi who was also at the roadblock. Investigations carried out revealed that Gogoda, Kedias, Chigango, Mawaya and Nyakufema were related, while Nyazema was a friend to Gogoda," he said.

The Nyanga Criminal Investigation Department’s Officer-in-Charge, Inspector Steven Nyamupfukudza, said they had established that the mbanje was on its way to Chitungwiza and part of the contraband was destined for Botswana.

"We have established that the mbanje originated from Mozambique. Drug traffickers usually take advantage of the porous Zimbabwe-Mozambique border to traffic mbanje. We strongly believe that mbanje is grown on a large scale in Mozambique especially in areas along the border. The mbanje is usually harvested between April and December and our records show that most people are arrested around this period. Some of the people arrested are those who live along Kairezi River along the border with Mozambique," he said.

Det Insp Nyamupfukudza said they were interested in interviewing a Bulawayo resident, John Ketero, who is strongly believed to have contacts with other traffickers from Botswana.

"We gathered that Ketero is the link between the local traffickers and their Botswana counterparts who usually drive to Bulawayo to collect the drugs, which they smuggle out of the country through the Zimbabwe-Botswana border. We are still to establish where Ketero operates from in Bulawayo," he said.

On asked, on which routes the peddlers usually use, Det Insp Nyamupfukudza said, it had emerged that the dealers use the Ruwangwe-Mayo Road where there are no police roadblocks.

From Mayo, they then drive to Headlands where they will connect into the Mutare-Harare Highway. They then use the Marondera-Chitungwiza Road.