By Staff Reporter
TWO Zimbabweans recently escaped from a gold mine in Evander, South Africa where they were part of nearly 300 men some Zimbabweans who were kept in underground captivityas slaves by a criminal gang.
According to police and media reports from South Africa, Allen Chikomba from Zimbabwe and a friend who did not want to be identified managed to escape from the mine.
The mine is in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province.
After the escape, the two made a report to the police leading to an investigation and a shootout between the police and the criminal gang at the mine.
According to South Africa Police Service spokesperson, Sergeant Sibusiso Mbuli, police could not yet confirm whether people are still being kept underground as the mine is still under siege by the criminal gang.
Chikomba told the South African media this week that he and some of his relatives from Zimbabwe were conned into working without pay in the mine.
His ordeal started the day he and some of his relatives set off to look for employment in Springs when a white commuter transport pulled up where they were standing.
“The men inside the taxi said they could organise work for us on the mines in Mpumalanga and we agreed to go with them to Evander,” said Chikomba, adding, “It sounded to us like a good work opportunity.”
However, it was not to long before they discovered that it was not a genuine job offer after all, when they arrived in Evander.
“As soon as we stopped at our destination, men with guns took hold of us and pushed us into a room where they locked us up.
“The next day they forced us down the mine. These men had many guns and did what they wanted with us.”
Chikomba said he was shocked to find a big crowd under the mine.
“There were so many of them working like slaves. We were forced to mine as well without being paid. If we did not work fast enough; they beat us.”
He said some of the people had been down there for more than two months without having any contact with the outside world and they were threatened with death if they tried to escape.
“We were forced to mine for gold day and night without any payment. We also slept in the mine and received very little food. It was mostly just pap (sadza) being served once a day. I saw how they shot people down there,” Chikomba said.
He said he and his friend only managed to escape by vanishing into the night darkness of the mine tunnels in which they ran until they found another shaft.
Once free, they reported their ordeal to the nearest mine security and were taken to the police who they told that a group of heavily armed men daily supplied food for the people underground.
With the information, the police intercepted the support group and this led to a shootout during which two gang members were shot and later died in hospital.
Three others were arrested and appeared in the Evander Magistrate’s Court this week facing an array of charges ranging from murder to resisting arrest.
Their case was postponed to this week.
However, South African police could not confirm whether people were still being kept underground.
He said no one has yet been set free as the mine was still under siege by the criminal gang above ground.
Chikomba said he was worried about his relatives who are still trapped in the mine.
“We do not even know if they are still alive,” he said.
Millions of Zimbabweans are living in South Africa with most of them doing menial jobs there after fleeing from the political and economic challenges in Zimbabwe.