BINDURA, ZIMBABWE – High unemployment and poverty are pushing Zimbabwean workers into mining for gold in abandoned and dangerous mine shafts that too often turn into death traps. At least 10 people trapped in a mine shaft that collapsed two weeks ago are feared dead.
One of those waiting at the Ran Mine, about 80 kilometers north of Harare, is Elizabeth Muzeyi. She wants her 34-year-old husband, Johannes Tagwireyi, brought out of the soils that trapped him on November 25 when the mine collapsed.
She says he never wanted to be an illegal miner.
She says poverty makes people risk their lives in unsafe and illegal mining. Long ago, Muzeyi says, it would be formal mining and people would be assured of a salary. Now, there are no jobs in Zimbabwe and that’s why people are being treated like dogs. She says when they are trapped underground, they are being abandoned.”
Authorities called off rescue efforts on December 5th. Only six miners were saved. At least 10 others are still buried.
The Zimbabwe Miners Federation, which represents miners like Tagwireyi, says as many as 30 miners were lost.
Wellington Takavarasha, CEO of the federation, says the government should put more value on small-scale and unlicensed miners.
“Artisanal mining is a livelihood activity countrywide,” said Takavarasha. “That’s why if you look at the numbers of people mining, they are plus or minus 1.5 million that we need to put in the mainstream economy, that the government benefits from their activities and their gold being taken to the Fidelity Printers and Refineries.”
Gold is Zimbabwe’s largest foreign exchange earner and more stable than the country’s volatile currency.
The struggling economy and unemployment have pushed laborers underground, despite the risk of accidents and violence.
Critics blame poor regulations and lack of security at abandoned mines.
Nathan Nkomo, director of the Zimbabwe’s Department of Civil Protection, says there have been several incidents like the Ran Mine collapse and action is needed.
“I am of the view that we need to quickly meet with the ministry of mines and mining development and the various players in the mining sector, especially the mining giants so that we chart the way forward on how best we can come up with a mitigation plan,” Nkomo said. “So, I think the only way of minimizing the loss of life is to have that mitigation plan.”
Zimbabwe’s parliament has summoned Winston Chitando, the minister of mines and mining development, to answer questions on why so many mining disasters have happened. He is scheduled to appear Wednesday.