- October 21, 2020
- Posted in LOCAL
YEAR-IN, year-out, lives are lost in Zimbabwe’s mining sector, with corruption and inadequate monitoring of mining activities by the government cited as major causes.
For instance, since 2018 several accidents have been recorded; including the flooding of Battlefields mine in Kadoma, which killed 28 people and the collapse of Eldorado mine in Chinhoyi, killing 11 men in two separate incidents.
Other accidents include the collapse of Shurugwi’s Wonderer mine, trapping over 50 artisanal and illegal gold miners underground and the Nugget gold mine collapse in May, which killed eight people, as well as the blast at Mazowe mine in which eight people died.
Again, in February this year, two miners died after a shaft collapsed at the Globe and Phoenix Mine in Kwekwe District, 200 km southwest of the capital Harare.
In May this year, another worker at Vumbachikwe Mine died after he allegedly fell during a blasting exercise when he was alone underground.
Last year, a man died in Gwanda at Berwick 3 Mine when a shaft he was working in collapsed.
Platinum giant Zimplats also recorded one fatality towards the end of the first quarter of 2019 at one of its mines, Mupfuti Mine.
On September 8, 2020, five artisanal miners got trapped underground at Task Mine in Chegutu and as of September 29, they had not been rescued.
Until when shall the nation continue losing precious lives in the mining sector?
The government and mining companies must do something to end these disasters. To begin with, mining activities across the country should and must be monitored.
There should be training of people who can lead and monitor operations, especially on areas of drilling and blasting. This is where many accidents happen.
Government, through the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, together with the Environmental Management Agency must track down and shut down all the illegal mines in the country.
The government must quickly formalise artisanal mining to enable the massive number of people who have just joined the sector to mine legally and to follow mine safety standards.
Formalisation in its various forms may enhance the adoption of safety, health and environmental standards to curb such mine disasters, says the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela).
Dewatering and lack of proper maintenance in the shaft development are also among the major causes and the situation could be controlled if the government licenced the artisanal miners, opines the Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation.
The other issue which is of real concern is the implementation of disaster and emergency preparedness measures in the mining sector.
For instance, with the Task Mine disaster, the government rescue team has been accused of being slow and poorly coordinated.
The accident, according to Zela, exposes the lack of adequate implementation of disaster and emergency preparedness measures in the mining sector. The organisation said it appears no one in the mining sector, including the government and the mining industry, is learning anything from past mistakes, experiences and disasters.
“While the situation of the five young miners is not quite clear, the hope of rescuing them seems to be fading with each passing day,” Zela said.
Zela said it was deeply concerned and saddened by the lethargic and indolent response by the government in the Chegutu disaster.
“It is indeed worrisome to note that when such incidences happen, even other victims who might have sustained minor injuries end up losing life due to the authorities’ failure to expeditiously attend to disasters. Over the years, the significant contribution of artisanal and small-scale miners to gold production levels in the country and the national economy has been realised,” it said.
The miners were said to have been working in an old underground shaft in a claim that is alleged to historically belong to Pickstone Mine but was being controlled by influential players in the gold sector under a mining cooperative. The mine claim is also adjacent to a Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC mining block), which has a shaft that might offer access to the mining area.
Zela said the mining activities at this mine site are alleged to have been illegal with mine monitoring appearing to be weak in the country. While the mine collapsed on September 8, 2020, other incidents were reported before the current one.
For example, it is reported that the mine once collapsed, when the mine shaft was 40 meters deep. Pickstone mine allegedly spearheaded the rescue operation and managed to handle the incident.
“Over the past two weeks, Zela said it has received several calls and messages from family members and members of the public calling for assistance from the government, mining companies and other actors to help rescue or at least recover the bodies of the miners.
To date, reports indicate that efforts to search, rescue or recover have been slow, it said.
“Information gathered on the ground indicates that a team of five inspectors from the Ministry of Mines once went to the site but could not do anything as it was dark with the ground not having been stable,” it said.
“Reports also indicate that there has been ground movement at the mine. In addition, no current underground plans are available at the mine site since the shafts were being worked on by artisanal miners.”
“The mine plans are said to have been last updated in 1963, and there are a lot of tunnels underground which make it difficult to search, and to open the unstable ground in the vicinity of collapse. This calls for a proper ground survey to be done to allow rescue missions. Unorganized rescue efforts might lead to other injuries or disasters,” Zela said.
Zela, therefore, encouraged the government to dedicate more resources and intensify the search, rescue or recovery efforts.
It said the government should appeal for help from mining companies, many of whom are now either buying gold from artisanal miners or organising artisanal miners to mine on old mine shafts.
The government must do more to address mining disasters in the mining sector.
All lives are precious!