- The name Penhalonga comes from the Portuguese penha meaning “rocky mountain” and longa meaning “long.”
- The Nyika people have for many years panned the Mutare River for gold which they traded with Swahili merchants at Sofala and made it into a flourishing and rich city-state long before the Vasco Homem, the first Portuguese visitor, Vasco Homem, arrived in the present day town of Manica in 1575.
- In the early 1900’s over 160 gold mines were pegged and worked, most very briefly, although the Penhalonga, now the Redwing Mine continues today.
- The village grew up around the mines, but today only the Police station and Post office and a few old stores remain to remind us of what was once a thriving and prosperous centre.
Coming from Harare pass the A15 turn-off from the A3 main Harare to Mutare Road, 2.4 KM turn left before Christmas Pass at the petrol station on road signposted for Penhalonga, 7.2 KM continue past the Fairbridge Road going to the left, 8.9 KM turn right for Penhalonga
GPS reference: 18⁰52′50.27″S 32⁰40′39.20″E
In 1888 Baron de Rezende, the Mozambique Company’s Director of Operations on Africa approached James Henry Jeffreys, a British mining engineer to lead an expedition into Manicaland. Jeffreys and chosen numbers of the expedition left Barberton for Delagoa Bay. Here he met Mr. Maritz, who asked him if he and some others could join his party, as he had also obtained a concession. They sailed on S.S. Carland, for the island of Cheloane, situated about 55 miles south of Beira. From there they sailed on a small tug for Beira. After one night on the tug he said, "The little craft also carried a cargo of cockroaches and a fair amount of other undesirables".
With the onset of the rainy season they needed make a start as soon as possible; Baron Rezende decided to accompany them into the interior. Native carriers had to be obtained to carry provisions, made up into 60 lb. parcels, but as Chief Gungunyana was raiding, carriers were afraid to go into Manicaland.
Fortunately a small paddle boat built in Yarrow on the Thames arrived in Beira. It was consigned to the Companhia de Mocambique for use on the river Pungwe - Busi. After three weeks in Beira completing arrangements they took to the paddle boat towing two lighters with their goods. It had been arranged that two hundred carriers would join them on reaching Manangora Island.
0n arrival, there was a delay, as no carriers turned up. After two weeks the party struck camp and continued by the same paddle boat on its next journey to Mapanda. Then a runner arrived with a message that on account of Gungunhana’s marauding party into Manicaland, it was advisable not to continue. The disappointment was great, but Rezende and Jeffreys decided to continue on alone. The rest of the party decided to remain at Gorongoza village (now a game reserve) for the end of the rainy season.
Jeffreys and Rezende could only muster nine carriers, four of whom were personal servants and out of that number three of them deserted, being terrified of meeting Gungunhana’s Impi and often they passed kraals deserted by the Manicas. Jeffreys and Rezende progressed as best they could to Macequece. Fortunately the Portuguese had obtained a promise from Gungunyana that he would not interfere with Europeans which is why they were not molested.
In view of the heavy rains, Jeffreys and Rezende stayed at the old fort of Macequece, which was unoccupied, which gave them the opportunity of investigating its past history, today it is known as Manica. In its early days, as Chipangura, it had been a main centre for marketing gold and slaves, before they were dispatched to the coast at Sofala. Whilst cleaning up inside the fort, they came across nineteen human skulls which crumbled away when exposed to air.
Rezende and Jeffreys explored as far as Chief Mutasa’s, by way of the Revue River and what is now known as the Divide and Penhalonga. Their food ran out as could not be replenished as Gungunhana’s raiders had stripped the country of all food. After their months of hardship and weak with malaria, they were saved by a French Engineer who arrived by canoe with quinine. When fit again, they walked to Mapanda where the engineer had left his steamer, and so were able to return to Beira and sent word for the remainder of the party to travel to Macequece.
Jeffreys and his party then started prospecting and by October 1889 that they discovered and pegged claims on two quartz outcrops with ancient workings and visible gold, the future Rezende and Penhalonga Mines, the latter named after Count Penhalonga of Lisbon. Both mines were a great financial success and produced a good quota of gold for many years, but unfortunately little of those prosperous days remain.
After pegging the claims, Jeffreys returned to Barberton leaving men to develop the site. His syndicate sent him to London, and he formed a syndicate in Paris to fund the Penhalonga mine. In 1891 Jeffreys returned with another party of ten whites, after engaging a steamer to take them up the Pungwe from Beira. "This country was then flooded" he remarked "from the Zambezi to the Pungwe." Of the 1888 party only two men were still alive - Mr. Maritz and Mr. G. Arnold. Of the second party none remained.
The village lies 17 kilometres north of Mutare in the valley where the Sambi and Imbeza Rivers join the Mutare River. Alluvial gold was being worked in the area in 1575 when it was visited by Vasco Homem. Political astute, Jeffreys decided to name the mining claims after officials from The Companhia de Mocambique, the company which possessed the trade concessions for Manica province. The first gold claim was named Penhalonga, after Count Penhalonga, chairman of the Mozambique Company. The Penhalonga Mine operated from 1897, in 1903 a forty stamp mill was in operation driven by water power, eventually producing over 185,000 oz. (5.3 tonnes) of gold. Jeffreys however remained on at the mine and played a major role in its development (in fact, he even served as Mayor of Umtali and died in 1926) but the mine closed in 1943 when its main shaft collapsed.
The Rezende Mine opened in 1899 and was named after Count Rezende and is still being worked as the Redwing Mine.
Current issues – the new Penhalonga gold rush
Hordes of illegal gold panners have arrived in Manicaland following rumours of gold deposits in the area. This is a result of the poverty and lack of job prospects affecting many unemployed young people like 25-year-old James Bhunu who joined the rush. “I only want to survive and fend for my family. I’m here because of hunger, because there is no food for my family,” he said. Bhunu is one of many “gwejas” (Illegal gold panners) and he said that in a “lucky” week, he could make more than $500 from selling gold.
The discovery of rich ore deposits in Penhalonga is bringing relief to the local community where most of the people are unemployed. Timothy Mutungagore, a community leader said Saungweme Mountains and Mutare River have been besieged by the illegal panners. “Before, there was a lot of gold and few people knew about it, because there was food and people didn’t care about gold. Now, because there is hunger and unemployment, people come from all over the country to mine.”
However, the illegal gold panning has tragic consequences. This year eight illegal gold panners died after being trapped in their shafts and in March this year, six illegal gold panners were trapped after a mine tunnel they were working in collapsed and buried them alive in the Saungweme Mountain area. Six other illegal panners who were in the same shaft managed to escape with help from Redwing Mine’s emergency team.
The community’s hopes rest on a mining law hoping to attract investment and development. “What we need are international investors to come in and mine for gold so the community can benefit,” said Chief Mutasa. According to police, an estimated 400 illegal gold panners are refusing to vacate Mutare River banks and Saungweme Mountain in Penhalonga. The panners have compromised the safety of the river by digging deep trenches and causing massive soil erosion.
The Zimbabwean Clayton Masekasa 10th July 2013