By Leopold Munhende
CRACKS have emerged at the Ran Mine disaster site under which over 20 illegal gold miners are believed to be trapped whilst unstable boulders overhang the only opening rescuers could use.
Information Ministry permanent secretary Nick Mangwana this week confirmed government has scaled down any rescue activities the site with friends and relatives of the victims becoming more anxious over the fate of their loved ones.
“Rescue activities have been scaled down due to the instability of the ground around the site,” said Mangwana.
“Relatives continue to keep vigil at the site. Government through the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) is providing meals to the families.
“Funeral services firms are providing tents to accommodate families.”
Relatives fear government could end up deciding to seal off and bury the illegal gold panners under the disaster mine.
A tour of the area by NewZimbabwe.com last week established the boulders, one of which struck and killed Wellington House, a volunteer rescuer last week, might stop all progress at the site.
Boulders could be heard falling deep inside the shaft as dewatering of the previously waterlogged site by government engineers continued.
A rescue team put in place to find any survivors or retrieve bodies had virtually stopped all operations as the loose rock threatened to fall right into the mouth of the shaft the 20 or so miners used as their entrance.
The rescue team failed to pull out a water pump placed at the entrance by the late House during initial attempts to dewater as it is positioned right above the unstable boulders.
Said a government source working at the site, “There is nothing we can do here at the present moment. If we try to force things, we will just endanger life like what happened with Wellington.”
Although dewatering continued, relatives of trapped victims complained the process was being slowed down by indecisive officials. They have volunteered to go down the shaft themselves to retrieve their loved ones.
They continued to mill around in small groups waiting eagerly for any development.
“The very day it happened I was called from Harare and arrived here at 1940hrs. If they cannot remove the boulders, they can use cranes then.
“Yesterday, they told us they first want to make sure water levels subside and today they have. So what is stopping the rescue team from going in?
“The boulders they are talking about will always be there, they will keep on falling but should that mean we abandon our children here.
“The submissive pump down there was put by us, using our hands. I can volunteer to go down there so that we retrieve our children and lay them to rest,” said Evans Mbondi, whose son Bright (23) is part of the trapped miners.
“This does not need the use of a ladder. We can do this. Imagine it is now seven days (since the accident), will we be able to identify our children or we will all be forced for go for DNA tests?”
Rains later threatened to render useless all efforts achieved but no major change was realised.
Another relative suggested government departments allow fellow illegal miners to go down the shafts to save or retrieve their colleagues as they were familiar with the different spots of the shaft.
Cornelius Nhokware told NewZimbabwe.com the situation no longer required government but gold-panners themselves who have shown they could pluck up enough courage to undertake the potentially dangerous undertaking.
“If this is proving too difficult for them, then let them call other illegal gold miners to come help their colleagues because this is taking too long, they are failing.
“This can take just one night. They know where they were operating from and will go there straight.
“We should not worry ourselves about how they will get in there because they alone know how they do it,” said Nhokware who indicated he had resigned himself to his nephew, Joachim Tagwirei’s fate.
“At Jumbo Mine, illegal gold miners retrieved bodies from as deep as Level 10 while everyone stood there watching; they (illegal miners) can still do it here.”
Five of the miners were rescued the previous week with three now back with their families while official communication indicated two were in hospital.
Unconfirmed reports in Bindura indicated the fifth one succumbed to his injuries at the town’s main hospital after a boulder crushed his left leg and broke his arm and other leg during the incident.
At the time of the visit by NewZimbabwe.com, the site’s gapping mouth was no longer waterlogged but rather too dark to see inside for any sign of life or bodies.
Bindura’s accident comes barely weeks after another similar one claimed six lives in Esigodini at Matshetshe Mine.
This was just over a year after some 24 artisanal miners were also killed at Silvermoon and Cricket Mine at Battlefields, Kwekwe.