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Zimbabwe MPs Concerned Inactive Mines Turning Into Cemeteries

Rescue workers install a pump to drain water from a collapsed mineshaft at Ran Mine, in Bindura, Zimbabwe, Nov. 26, 2020.
Rescue workers install a pump to drain water from a collapsed mineshaft at Ran Mine, in Bindura, Zimbabwe, Nov. 26, 2020.

Zimbabwe's parliament has called on the government to resume rescue efforts at a mine that collapsed two weeks ago. Authorities had called off the efforts Dec. 5 after pulling six miners from the mineshaft, but the Zimbabwe Miners Federation says as many as 40 people could still be trapped.

Parliament’s mines committee Wednesday said it wanted the government to resume searching for miners trapped underground since Nov. 25 when a shaft at the Ran gold mine in the Bindura district north of Harare collapsed.

Lawmakers summoned Winston Chitando, the minister of mines and mining development, to answer questions about the situation.

There have been no signs of life from the mine, and over the weekend, the government called off the search and rescue mission, deeming it too risky.

Settlement Chikwinya was among lawmakers not happy with the decision.

“Why are we, as nation, quick to condemn (abandon) a shaft of 60 meters? Are we that much shallow in our engineering approach, that every time there is a mineshaft collapse of 60 meters, we condemn it to be a grave?"

Minister Chitando was non-committal on whether the government would resume the search mission. He said there are many factors affecting the search of the trapped miners.

“Which include but are not limited to our preparedness, equipment; do we have adequate equipment?” he asked.

The government says ten miners were trapped in the cave-in. The Miners Federation and relatives of missing miners say the number is closer to 40.

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance – an NGO that advocates for good governance of natural resources, particularly minerals – says Chitando must be pushed further.

Henry Nyapokoto, the group’s program manager, said this not the first time that the government has abandoned trapped small-scale miners.

“This has been a huge problem in the gold mining sector especially this year, 2020. Our biggest concern as an organization and as civic society is to have the government as the mining regulator to address the root cause of mining disasters that are claiming lives of artisanal miners," Nyapokoto said.

There have been at least four fatal mining accidents in Zimbabwe over the past two years.

Most miners in Zimbabwe work for themselves, selling whatever valuable minerals they find to the government. Gold represents Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign exchange earner.

Many miners took up the profession because they have no other way to make a living in Zimbabwe’s moribund economy.