Residents say the mine disaster in Bindura which has claimed two lives with many more feared dead could have been avoided if miners and government had heeded safety considerations suggested by the Environmental Management Agency and other civic organisations like the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association.
Abandoned mine sites are a great safety hazard. Many of these structures contain dilapidated frames, open shafts, and water-filled pits. The dangers that are found in the mines include old explosives, hazardous chemicals, bats, snakes, spiders, and other predators. Falls and cave-ins are common in these old mines.
Speaking to Great Dyke News24, residents of Bindura said the miners who are yet to be accounted for save for one, were reckless given the fact that they were entering the shaft through secret tunnels knowing that the mine has not been functioning for the past ten years.
“For me, the issue of Ran mine has something to do with negligence. These miners knew obviously that the mine has not been used for more than ten years.
“Some of the guys were using secret tunnels to enter into the mine in huge numbers without proper equipment. They blasted the pillars of the mine while underground and that’s how they were trapped,” said Tinashe Chikwiza from Chipadze in Bindura.
“l know this issue is very sensitive because a number of people are feared dead due to the incident that happened at Ran mine.
“In this case, l blame the miners because most of them knew that the mine was a dangerous place just by moving around without entering inside. We were surprised that illegal miners were trapped inside and we wonder what they were trying to do.
“While timber supports appeared to be in good condition, they were actually very loose and ready to fall apart at the slightest touch,” said Onisimo Tapera an artisanal miner from Bindura.
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), says school children were now increasingly participating in artisanal gold mining activities owing to inactivity and rising poverty levels worsened by a prolonged Covid-19 lockdown.
According to its report titled “Impact of Covid-19 response mechanisms on children in selected gold and diamond communities in Zimbabwe”, children are no longer attending classes and the pandemic also drove some to engage in economic activities including illegal mining.
“Since the COVID-19 induced lockdown and the closure of schools, the number of children involved in alluvial diamond and artisanal gold mining in the areas under review has increased,” said Zela.
This analysis indicates that a lot of these children do not have experience in mining and they do not know the implications of mining in disused mines hence they get trapped inside the mines.
Speaking to Great Dyke News 24, the Zimbabwe Miners Federation ZMF Chief Executive Officer Wellington Takavarasha revealed that a number of illegal and artisanal miners are not observing health and safety measures when mining as they are only interested in extracting the precious mineral.
“The issue of Bindura Ran mine is actually very sensitive. What is happening is that in the whole country there have been accidents that have occurred in disused mines which are prime operational areas for illegal mining activities.
“They will be chipping away at pillars which will be the centre of support of the mines so we have people who died at Ran mine and the issue that we are looking at is that artisanal and small scale miners are not observing health and safety issues.
“They are not wearing PPEs, so it’s a matter of life and death situation where what is important to them is the gold they get without observing health and safety issues.
“It is quite painful that we are losing a number of people through negligence because they are not observing health and safety protocols,” he said.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) recently forced the shutdown of four mines in Mashonaland Central province for operating without the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate.
In a telephone interview with Great Dyke News 24, EMA spokesperson Amkela Sidange said there is a need for the formalisation of mining activities so the miners will get proper mining claims.
“These miners must formalise their activities because it becomes easier for technical advice to come their way, and they won’t be found in mining areas that actually put their lives at risk, so we have to look at these miners from two angles, those that have formalised their activities and those who are mining illegally.
“Our message as EMA is don’t involve yourselves in illegal mining activities. Don’t mine in a manner that harms the environment or puts your life at risk and that of the public,” she said.
Deputy minister of Mines and Mining Development Polite Kambamura says the government is taking action to curb the loss of lives through disasters in disused mines.
“We are coming up with a number of measures to curb what is happening. Firstly we will be making awareness campaigns together with the Ministry of Environment and other stakeholders throughout the provinces to educate small-scale miners on the dangers of entering disused mines.
“Also we will be engaging all miners with mines that are idle to secure those mines or use them adequately.
“There are dangers because most miners are now mining support pillars which is very dangerous, so owners of those mines must secure their mines or fully utilise the mines.
“We started the use it or lose it principle where miners who are failing to operate their mines adequately should come forward to the Ministry of Mines to tell us why they are not fully utilising their mines. Failure to satisfy us will see those mines taken back by the government,” he said.
The Ran mine collapse last Thursday was followed by another collapse at Mandlovukazi mine in Esigodini at the weekend which trapped six miners. Rescue efforts are in progress to retrieve the miners at both mines who are now feared dead. In Manicaland two bodies were retrieved from a collapsed mine in Mutasa district recently while ten others are feared dead.