Patrick Chitumba and Michael Magoronga
GOVERNMENT has permanently shut down Globe and Phoenix Primary School in Kwekwe in the Midlands Province after 18 pupils were injured when a classroom floor collapsed into an underground mining shaft.
The incident occurred yesterday morning at 7.30AM shortly after the start of lessons.
Of the 1 500 affected pupils, 900 learners will be temporarily housed at the neighbouring Sally Mugabe Primary School while the rest will attend classes under makeshift tents that will be erected at the former Globe and Phoenix Mine offices.
All the injured pupils were treated and discharged at Kwekwe District Hospital.
Some pupils fell into the shaft while others escaped through the windows as the floor caved in.
When the Chronicle news crew visited the school yesterday, teachers and pupils were in a state of shock. Parents and guardians rushed to the school, located in the city centre after news of the incident started circulating on various social media platforms. An emergency rescue team from Zimplats Mine reacted swiftly and managed to retrieve the furniture and stationary that had plunged into the shaft following the collapse of the floor.
The news crew observed that part of the classroom floor was suspended in the air as there was nothing underneath to support it save for a tunnel, which is a product of illegal gold mining that took place at the school. The Civil Protection Unit (CPU) director Mr Nathan Nkomo visited the school to assess the situation. He also visited Sally Mugabe Primary School where the affected learners will be temporarily accommodated following the closure of Globe and Phoenix Primary School.
In an interview, Mr Nkomo said: “The primary school has been shut down permanently and that is the official position because we can’t put the lives of the learners and the teaching staff at risk,” he said.
Mr Nkomo said the 1 500 pupils will be sheltered at Sally Mugabe Primary School and the former Globe and Phoenix Mine main offices.
“About 900 pupils will continue school at Sally Mugabe Primary School while the rest will learn from a tent that will be erected at the former Globe and Phoenix offices. This is because we don’t want to disrupt their classes and lessons will resume on Monday,” he said.
Mr Nkomo said Government will soon identify a new site to where the school would be relocated.
“Generally, there is a need for all public buildings which include schools and Government offices in Kwekwe city centre to be re-inspected to ensure that they are safe to accommodate people,” he said.
Mr Nkomo said the classroom floor collapsed as learners were preparing to start lessons.
“I am told the teacher was not in the classroom at that particular moment when the floor collapsed. When it collapsed, some pupils including the furniture and stationery also fell into the shaft that is beneath the floor and 18 of them were injured,” he said.
“I am glad that from the doctors’ assessment, no one suffered serious injuries. They have all been treated and discharged.”
Ward 6 Councillor Mclean Nyamucherera said the collapse of the classroom floor was not a surprise since school authorities decommissioned two classroom blocks last December fearing that they would collapse due to illegal gold mining activities.
“At around 7.30 AM, there was a commotion at the school such that the headmaster thought a snake had sneaked into the classroom. Some learners were screaming and when the headmaster went to investigate, he discovered that the floor had collapsed,” he said.
Cllr Nyamucherera said some houses and council infrastructure such as roads and water valves close to Globe and Phoenix Mine are also under siege from the illegal miners.
The officer commanding police in the Midlands Province Commissioner Winston Muza said the collapse of the classroom floor was a result of underground gold mining that took place some time back.
“When this happened, there wasn’t any illegal gold mining taking place. We have been monitoring illegal mining in and around the school, and we will continue doing so to make sure no infrastructure is damaged or destroyed,” he said.
Midlands provincial mining director Engineer Tariro Ndlovu said they have approached mining companies operating in the area to dispatch their trained personnel to assist.
“Our mines inspectorate should be on the ground shortly so that they ascertain the extent of the damage and where the shafts are heading to. That way we will be able to know if there are any other places that are under threat from shafts and tunnels left by illegal gold miners,” he said.
A parent, Ms Yeukai Moyo, said it was high time the school was handed over to the Government.
“Since the school was owned by a mining company which has since left, I think it is wise that it be handed over to the Government because as it is, there is no one who is overseeing the day-to-day running of the school. We are calling upon authorities to take this matter seriously because our children are not safe,” she said.
“The affected class is Grade 5B, and my child is in Grade 5A. Since the school has hot sitting, my son also uses the same class which gave in. I thank God that he is safe, but also pray for a quick recovery to those who were injured,” she said.
Kwekwe Central legislator Judith Tobaiwa said: “The authorities should have closed this school a long time ago. This is a wakeup call and I hope they are going to close down the school and relocate it to avert another disaster.”
Local businessmen, Dr Solomon Matsa and Mr Energy Ncube have pledged to cater for all medical bills for the injured learners and assist with funds for the construction of a new school.
Kwekwe district development coordinator, Mr Fortune Mpungu recently expressed fears that the District Government offices which house the Civil Registry and his office could also cave in because of shafts underneath.