Officials in Zimbabwe say the bodies of eight illegal miners have been retrieved from an abandoned gold mine about 50 kilometers north of Harare. The news Monday was a reminder of the risk faced by desperate illegal miners trying to make a living in the economically troubled southern African country. Matopo is a gold rich area in southern Zimbabwe, and some men there enter such mines, despite the danger involved.
These men are illegal miners, using a metal detector to search for gold at the Nugget Mine, about an hour's drive from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city.
Piniel Ndingi-Nyoni is one of those who entered the mine, despite the recent collapse of a mine shaft that killed four men.
Ndingi-Nyoni says he has no choice but to take the risk.
“Problems at home force me to do this. We need school fees, you need food, there are medical bills to take care of, so all that force you to stay in the bush. It is not funny at all. In this cold weather, we sleep in shacks while the wife is at home. At times, we can go for three months without getting anything,” Ndingi-Nyoni said.
A few minutes later, the illegal miners disappeared into the bush at the sight of officials in the area. Once the coast is clear, they re-appear.
No man gives up, is the motto 42-year-old Edward Madyauta lives by. He says he has gold rush dreams. But he says on several occasions, he has gone for months on a wild-goose chase.
What about fears of being trapped under, as what happened a few meters away?
“I do not fear death, because (I) usually get gold before depth gets past my height. So that can’t collapse on me. But those who go under have a higher risk of the shaft collapsing on them,” Madyauta explained.
On Monday, searchers found the bodies of eight men working an abandoned mine in Mazowe, north of the capital. It was the third fatal incident involving illegal miners this year.
Polite Kambamura, deputy minister of mines, says the government is worried about the trend and has embarked on a campaign to urge people to stay away from abandoned mines.
“We are going to call on owners of such mines to show cause why they are not mining. We are risking the lives of many people. If a mine stays for long without any activity, the ground will weaken up,” Kambamura said. “Some of those miners are going underground to mine on pillars. The moment they mine on pillars, then there is no more support and the ground will fall off.”
But with Zimbabwe’s economy in meltdown and no recovery in sight, one wonders if any of the miners, like Nyoni and Madyauta in Matopo, will listen to the advice.