A sense of sorrowful finality settles over Eldorado Mine in Chinhoyi, where 14 illegal miners were trapped and killed a fortnight ago.
Only one body was retrieved — the rest remain entombed nearly 400m in the earth’s bowels.
The rescue mission — alas, the retrieval mission — has since been abandoned as it has been deemed that further probes in the labyrinthine gold pits are risky at present.
While the community is still struggling to process fate’s cruel hand, the authorities have grudgingly accepted reality.
Eldorado mine manager Mr Mish Misinga told The Sunday Mail, when we visited the mine last week, that the shaft is now a “mass grave”.
“The illegal miners were trapped at level 11 (330m), while we at the mine are still mining at level 8 (240m).
“Thus, we anticipate that their remains will only be recovered when we start mining at level 12 in about five to 10 years from now.
“Maybe in five years they will be able to get a decent burial, for now, however, level 11 is their grave. Level 11 will never be mined again, it will remain closed.
“However, when we start mining in level 12, rocks are bound to move due to blasting, the remains of the miners will be loosened — that is how they will be retrieved.”
According to Mr Misinga, the illegal miners accessed the main shaft through six access pits.
The pits would connect with the main shaft at level 2 (60m) of the mine.
The miners would go deeper to level 11 using ropes as the construction at that level of the mine was not finished.
“The mine has 26 levels and at the moment, we had constructed up to level nine,” Mr Misinga added.
The constructed levels have ladders, while the risk of rock falls are minimum.
“However, since there is no construction at level 11, the rocks and earth are not secure, we had not constructed up to that level; maybe, that is why the Government decided to abandon the rescue mission,” he said
The Sunday Mail also established that most of the doomed miners were from as far as Gokwe, Shurugwi and Zvishavane.
Mr Tapera Chieza, a relative of two of the deceased, said although they had volunteered to go underground and retrieve the bodies, their request was turned down.
“When I travelled to Chinhoyi from Gokwe after getting a phone call informing me that my brother Anderson Chieza and my nephew Modern Mabwe had died in a mine shaft, I met one of their colleagues who showed me my relatives’ belongings, which I immediately identified.
“I waited for the bodies’ retrieval; however, after some time, I was told the search had been abandoned due to risk factors.
“I wanted to go into the mine to retrieve their bodies, but we were denied access. Some were allowed to take soil from the mine shaft so that we would bury the soil.
“However, for us, that is not the burial we wanted. It is one thing to lose a loved one but not being able to bury them is another thing altogether,” he said.
The glitter of headlines celebrating impressive gold production glosses over the daily tragedies that befall armies of artisanal miners who burrow the Zimbabwean landscape in search of the valuable yellow metal.
Last week, Fidelity Printers and Refiners, the gold-buying unit of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, said gold production in the eight months to August 31 had impressively grown to 24,8 tonnes, matching the total output for 2017.
Small-scale miners contributed more than double as much gold as large producers at more than 16 tonnes.
Behind those statistics are miners like those who perished at Anderson Chieza and Modern Mabwe.
There is growing advocacy for reforms that cater for the welfare of artisanal miners.
Addressing small-scale miners in Chegutu in July, Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando said Government was crafting a framework to push back growing risks in the sector.
“The President’s wish is zero harm to all our miners, big or small. We want a situation where if one leaves their family for a mining operation, the family knows that he or she will come back without failure,” said Minister Chitando.
“What we have done as part of the new policy in Government, is the first gold centre that we will open in Bubi, we will have a Safety and Health and Environment officer who will be going around the 90 claims within the centre, advising them on the best ways of mining safely.”
No doubt, Zimbabwe, which sees gold production as a key pillar of socio-economic transformation, will need to do plenty quickly to improve the working conditions of the men and women who risk life and limb to dig up this precious metal.
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