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Shoddy extractive methods triggered Bayhorse Mine disaster — Minister Zhemu

“The accident at Chakari happened as a result of non-compliance, so in as much as we could be talking of the water (logging), to us, the accident was mainly due to human error."

NEWLY-appointed Minister of Mines, Soda Zhemu, has made startling revelations that the gold mine tragedy at Bayhorse in Chakari, Chegutu district, was a result of haphazard extraction methods which were supervised by unqualified personnel.

The mine collapse, which occurred last Friday, has so far left nine people dead, and four missing miners while 21 survivors were accounted for.

Zhemu blamed the mine authorities, led by one T. Sigauke, for conducting unsustainable mining techniques and wilfully disregarding enabling laws.

The disaster at Bayhorse brings to question who authorised operations at the ill-fated mine if the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), and other subsequent due diligence processes by Mines ministry officials, were professionally undertaken.

“The accident at Chakari happened as a result of non-compliance, so in as much as we could be talking of the water (logging), to us, the accident was mainly due to human error.

“We are also hearing that there was no qualified mine manager at the affected mine who could actually give guidance to what could be undertaken in the shafts,” Zhemu told journalists in Harare during a Gold Mobilisation Send-Off workshop held Monday.

Zhemu raised concern over delays in alerting the relevant ministry of the mishap, saying it took hours before he was made aware of the unfortunate incident.

“The most unfortunate thing is how the information was relayed to the Ministry of Mines after the accident; the police called us at 4 pm when the accident had occurred at 10 am.

“So, our mining engineers had to be mobilised to the scene and started working with other stakeholders who had already converged at the mine to provide rescue operations,” the minister said.

“During the night of that same Friday, two bodies were retrieved, and eight miners were rescued and taken to hospital.

“Two more bodies were retrieved the following day, and as we speak, we are still to account for some people.

“However, we hear from the rescue teams that some people were seen trapped in tunnels, suggesting that they could be dead,” Zhemu added.

He acknowledged there were conflicting figures for fatalities, missing persons and survivors.

The ministry, Zhemu told journalists, was still awaiting official confirmation of exactly how many people died and those who survived, as well as the number of missing persons.

Sources told NewZimbabwe.com a joint search and rescue operation had by the time of publishing managed to bring four bodies to the surface, while efforts to uplift five other corpses were being thwarted by soft ground and a rock boulder that was blocking the tunnel leading to where the miners lay dead.

Fatalities are expected to rise as four miners are unaccounted for.

Sources told this publication that 21 of the trapped individuals had by Friday night, either escaped to safety or rescued.

Some witnesses put the initial figure of trapped miners at between 40 and 44, but it was later revised to 34, who were underground when tragedy struck around 10am Friday.

Mines Deputy Minister, Polite Kambamura visited the accident site Saturday and confirmed he was briefed that 34 employees had entered the gold mine when the shaft collapsed.

Meanwhile, by the afternoon of Monday, October 2, a search and rescue operation was still underway at the site while a memorial service was held at Chegutu Hospital mortuary for the four deceased miners, but only the late Godfrey Baro (26)’s body was paraded as others had already been laid to rest.

Dozens of distraught family members waited in tents at Bayhorse hoping for news of their loved ones emerging alive, but hope was fast fading among some worried relatives who already feared the worst.

“The most painful thing for me is not knowing if my son is dead or alive…I can’t take it anymore knowing that he is down there,” a weeping Memory Gohwe, whose son remains trapped said.

Small-scale miners who spoke to NewZimbabwe.com on condition of anonymity revealed they could not afford to embark on “costly” but sustainable exploration as they were prone to lose mines anytime to powerful cartels that grab gold claims with impunity.

“We end up doing haphazard mining just to get our investments back on time before losing the mines to powerful cartels. They are mafia-like and linked to top politicians, so it’s a dog-eat-dog situation,” one miner said.

In light of gold rushes in Zimbabwe, lives continue to be lost as a result of accidents at disused mines where artisanal or small-scale miners defy authorities by prospecting in old shafts prone to collapse. – (New Zimbabwe)

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