Yoliswa Dube-Moyo, Matabeleland South Bureau Chief
THREE nights of pumping water out of the 240-metre-deep shaft at Bucks Mine in Colleen Bawn where seven miners have been trapped underground since Saturday were met with dead silence when the first body was finally hoisted out of the shaft.
After waiting for days with no idea what could have been happening with their loved ones underground, anxious relatives could finally see the culmination of their wait.
While some watched helplessly, others couldn’t hold back tears. They stood, watched and wept silently as the rescue team battled with a blue drum containing the body of one of the trapped miners at around 9.30AM.
In that moment, all hope started to peel off.
Another body emerged at around 12 noon and was again met with dead silence, blank stares and tears.
By 1.50PM, another body was being hoisted to the surface, and at this point, it was clear there were no survivors from the accident as some of the retrieved bodies had been badly injured with skin peeling off due to prolonged exposure to water.
It must’ve been hard to be a police officer as co-workers struggled to identify some of the miners whose faces had been defaced.
The blankets covering the bodies were opened and closed several times before positive identifications could be made so that the correct relatives could be asked to identify the bodies.
The rescue workers who have been on the mission 24/7 since they were called in to assist, some of whom have been living underground since Saturday continued to hoist more miners out with a body count of five by 5PM.
The inevitable would soon follow — packing up the deceased belongings and holding family caucuses on what the next move would be.
Members from various miners’ associations gathered to commiserate with the bereaved families and offer assistance to the rescue team in retrieving the trapped miners’ bodies.
By 6PM, six bodies had been retrieved with the seventh one reportedly visible to the rescue team but partly crushed by the plunged skip.
Speaking at the scene of the accident yesterday, Mines and Mining Development Deputy Minister Polite Kambamura urged miners to adhere to safety standards in order to avoid similar accidents in future.
“It’s sad that we lost seven miners of this operation but we want to thank everyone who is here and has been making frantic efforts to rescue those who drowned underground. We’ve so far managed to retrieve five bodies; the sixth body is still underground but it will be out in the next hour. The seventh body is still trapped underground under a cocopone which we’re trying to move so that we can have space to get the body out. We’re confident that we’ll be able to retrieve all the seven bodies,” said Deputy Minister Kambamura.
He extended his condolences to the families and co-workers of the deceased.
“We’re so saddened as Government and want to urge the communities around to adhere to all safety standards to make sure that such accidents don’t happen in future. Currently, the department of the chief Government mining engineer is going around doing safety awareness campaigns together with the Ministry of Environment to make sure that miners adhere to safety standards and a safe working environment,” said Deputy Minister Kambamura.
Vubachikwe Mine rescue team captain Mr Cleopas Karima said the rescue mission had been a difficult one.
“We started pumping water on Sunday around 10PM because the mine had problems with broken pipes so we started by equipping the pipes and the pump. We continued pumping until Monday around 10PM, that’s when we started to see the first body floating on top of water.
“We continued pumping until today (yesterday) around 5AM, that’s when we saw six bodies,” said Mr Karima.
He said the team started cleaning the shaft and installing some working platforms to enable them to retrieve the bodies.
“We started retrieving the bodies around 9AM today (yesterday) but still our challenge is that there’s still water underground.
The water from the expected platform is about three meters which makes it difficult for us. We’ve retrieved five bodies, the sixth one is on its way up now. The seventh body is still a challenge but there are positive signs that we’ll retrieve it soon. If we fail, we’re going to pump water again so that we can retrieve it,” said Mr Karima.
He said the top part of the seventh body was still trapped underwater.
“We’re fighting to retrieve it. This has been a difficult activity considering the state of the mine. It’s been hard but we’ve managed to sail through. We hope we’re going to retrieve the seventh body soon. We’ve had help from some of the guys from here. It’s a hard situation especially considering that these bodies have been in water since Saturday up to now. The bad smells and you can imagine the water with blood and everything,” said Mr Karima.
Zimbabwe Miners Federation Matabeleland South chapter chairman Mr Philemon Mukwili said the bereaved families would be assisted with burial logistics.
“We saw this accident as a challenge to us because we now understand that most small-scale miners lack knowledge of health and safety which is very important in our mining operations. We’ll be training our miners so that they understand the importance of safety in the mines. Most miners were not taking issues of health and safety seriously such that when we called for training, most miners were not coming. However, these trainings will be useful in reducing accidents in our mines,” said Mr Mukwili.