By Romio Takundwa
On June 6 1972, 427 mine workers perished at the then Wankie Colliery’s Number 2 shaft when a series of underground gas explosions ripped through the mine. The day brings a sore memory on the Zimbabwe calendar as it remains a painful reminder of the hazards of mining and the long term effects of these disasters on surviving families.
The Kamandama disaster exemplifies the disregard for the health and safety of mineworkers and their families in Zimbabwe.
To this regard, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) a research and advocacy civil society organisation which investigates human rights violations in the extractive sector yesterday issued a statement in remembrance of the affected families.
The organisation which again promotes good governance of natural resources particularly minerals also lamented the plight of the vulnerable widows left by the victims who have not gained any meaningful benefits from the Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL).
“The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) joins the people of Zimbabwe in commiserating with mineworkers and mining-affected communities who continue to shoulder the negative impacts of mining.
“The Kamandama disaster spelt a bleak future for the families of the victims who perished at the mine. The victims, mostly in their late 20s and early 30s then left young families, who were then deprived of education and decent livelihoods. These families, mostly the widows, continue to be neglected by both the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) and the Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL).
“We call upon the GoZ and HCCL to take care of the socio-economic needs of these widows. 22 surviving widows who were guests of honour at a commemoration event held by CNRG in 2019 in Hwange said they never remarried after being told by HCCL management they would lose their benefits, including houses if they got married.
“They are invited to the colliery on 6 June every year for the commemoration where they are given bus fares and small food hampers. They are not on medical aid and the allowances they used to get have ceased,” read the statement.
CNRG also took a swipe at recent mining disasters that have occurred across the country which has claimed lives citing lack of adequate policies as well as absolute disregard for the health and safety of mineworkers.
“While the Kamandama disaster remains the deadliest in the history of mining in Zimbabwe, more lives continue to be lost at various formal and informal mines across Zimbabwe. The year 2020 saw the most tragic mine accidents for the gold mining sector. Over a hundred artisanal and small-scale mineworkers died in mine accidents. At Tusk Mine in Chegutu, at least 5 artisanal miners were buried alive after a shaft collapsed on them.
“At Matshetshe mine in Esigodini, a shaft collapsed with six employees of a small-scale mine underground. The rescue mission was abandoned after 11 days. At Ran Mine in Bindura, over 30 artisanal miners died after a disused mine shaft collapsed on them.
“At Premier Estate outside Mutare, an unknown number of artisanal miners were killed when Chinese gold panners closed a shaft with full knowledge of the presence of artisanal miners underground in November 2020. Only two bodies were recovered and rescue operations abruptly stopped despite artisanal miners insisting that at least 12 miners were underground when disaster struck,” read the statement.
Minister of Mines and Mining Development, Winston Chitando has since underscored the need for orderly mining in the country in order to mitigate mine accidents in the country.
“Adequate and regular inspections are one of the critical things that we need to ensure that we mitigate against the accidents. According to the law, inspections at mining concessions should be done at least four times per annum. The frequency will then increase where inspectors feel it is necessary,” he said.