SIX miners, four of them from one family, are feared dead after the mine they were working in collapsed after heavy rains pounded Matshetshe, Esigodini in Matabeleland South last Tuesday.
By yesterday, the miners had not been rescued or their bodies recovered after rescue efforts were stalled as the area is “still too dangerous to carry rescue operations”. The situation was also compounded by the fact that the mine owner initially refused to acknowledge ownership and the trapped workers.
Matabeleland South provincial police spokesperson Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele said the matter was now of national importance given the number of suspected deaths and hence he could not speak on it. He referred questions to national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi who however, could not immediately comment on the issue.
Sunday News, however, visited the area yesterday where villagers and community members were still trying to find ways to start digging up the trapped miners. Nkosilathi Ndlovu (29), Christopher Dube (23), Ndumiso Dube (19) and Blessed Ncube (24), all members of one family, were trapped alongside Nduduzo Ntini (28) and another miner only identified as Mlilo.
Only pieces of red cloth marked the area where the miners had reportedly set up an encampment on a lucrative claim on the banks of Thekwane River, with villagers telling Sunday News that experts from How Mine, which offered help in the rescue effort, had deemed the whole area unsafe.
Villagers told Sunday News that rescue efforts had been delayed by the mine owner, Ms Sakhile Ndlovu, who had since Tuesday, been allegedly denying that she is the proprietor of the claim. Without a sketch of the underground layout of the mine, How Mine, which had offered its services for a rescue on the day of the disaster, had said it could not make good on its offer.
It was only on Friday after pressure from community members that the mine owner finally gave the greenlight to her mine manager, only identified as Madzibaba Ncube, to go ahead and give a sketch of the area. At the scene of the incident, there were no rescue efforts yesterday, as emotional family members wailed with villagers holding a prayer vigil at the site.
The devastating effects of the rain were evident, with heavy mine machinery tossed several feet from the mine. With emotions and fear running high in an area where gold wars are common, a villager who had been in contact with the only member to escape from what had been a seven-men group on Tuesday told Sunday News that the miners had been trapped after ignoring advice to leave the claim at the onset of Tuesday’s rains.
“The problem, the guy who escaped told us, was that the other six guys did not think the rain was heavy enough to threaten them. The area that they were mining at only had a slight drizzle so they thought it was fine but the water was rushing down from the other side of the river.
“The mine had three tiers. He was on the third level and his job was to warn those below him when there was an instruction from above. He told them that it was time to leave but because there are always joking as guys, they did not take him seriously. Even though he was on the third level, when he got out of the mine the water was already at knee length,” said the villager.
Others expressed outrage at the miner owner, Ms Ndlovu who they said had delayed rescue because if she admitted to owning the claim, law enforcement officers would descend on her. She had been uprooting equipment from the encampment, including tents, since Tuesday, incensed villagers claimed. When Sunday News visited her homestead, Ms Ndlovu declined to shed more light.
“We have been waiting for people just like you. A police officer, Mandla Ncube from Esigodini ZRP told me that you need to get clearance from him before you can talk to us,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of Ms Moddy Ndlovu, who has a son and three grandchildren trapped underground, Mr Phineas Tshabalala said the family had only got to hear of the issue on Thursday, while they were still in the dark about the course of action going forward.