Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
A BULAWAYO gold panner from Cowdray Park suburb died while his colleague escaped unhurt after they were trapped underground when a shaft in which they were illegally mining gold collapsed.
The incident occurred yesterday morning at a quarry pit located between Cecil Drive and Coghlan Avenue in Bulawayo’s Parklands suburb.
Illegal miners invaded the area after news broke that rich gold deposits had been discovered at Bulawayo City Council (BCC) quarry mine.
The deceased, identified as Lungisani Mpofu, was trapped and buried under the 15-metre deep pit at around 6AM.
The other six gold panners who were outside the pit managed to rescue one of their colleagues who is yet to be identified.
The gold panners discovered that the gravel from the quarry pit that was being used to rehabilitate a section of Cecil Drive had gold and they were now searching for the mineral in the pit.
The incident comes barely six months after another panner died while four others escaped unhurt when a shaft at the same quarry mine collapsed on them while they were illegal mining gold. BCC rangers, police and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) have on several occasions raided the gold panners.
When a Chronicle news crew arrived at the scene yesterday, rescue teams were in the process of retrieving the body while congregants from Exodus Apostolic church who worship near the quarry mine had gathered.
One of the congregants, Mr Joshua Ncube said they have of late witnessed an influx of gold panners digging at night in search of gold.
“When we came here for our service, we found a group of women and children gathered at the scene. These people have been secretly digging these pits for the past few days,” he said.
“This area has become so dangerous even for us congregants since there are pits all over the place and we are also at risk of being trapped, especially our children.”
Bulawayo chief fire officer Mr Linos Phiri confirmed the incident saying one of the residents alerted the rescue team at around 9AM.
He said when the rescue teams arrived at the scene, they discovered that the deceased had been buried in an open shaft and part of his head was visible.
“Our team found the deceased buried in a pit of a small open shaft where he was conducting illegal mining activities at a quarry pit located near the National University of Science and Technology. They managed to stabilise the pit which was showing signs of collapse,” said Mr Phiri.
“The team used shovels and spades to remove a heap of soil that was covering the deceased, Lungisani Mpofu. We also discovered that the pit collapsed while the deceased and six other panners were illegally panning for gold.”
Bulawayo has several gold deposits around the city and the council has issued mining licenses in some areas.
Council recently said that gold panners had invaded Woodlands while threatening Insiza/Inyankuni pipeline servitude and a tail of Umzingwane dam.
Town Clerk Mr Dube said urgent attention needs to be taken as the situation has got out of hand. He said water flows were being blocked during the mining process resulting in little or no flow at all to council dams.
He suggested that, if possible, no mining claims be offered in affected areas. Farmers are also counting losses due to the operations of the gold panners as some of their cattle fall into unclaimed pits they leave behind. — @thamamoe