IN 1967, 12 men, including two Germans, died in a mine blast while exploring for coal at what is now known as the Bubye Coalfields near Tshituripasi, 100km east of Beitbridge town.
BY OWN CORRESPONDENT
A huge explosion reportedly tossed out two of the men from beneath, in what is described as gory circumstances similar to the Kamandama Mine disaster at Wankie Coal Mine on June 6, 1972 which had 426 fatalities, the deadliest mine accident to date in Zimbabwe’s history.
The Wankie disaster claimed 36 whites and 390 blacks and is Africa’s second worst after South Africa’s January 21, 1960 Coalbrook North Mine accident that claimed 436 miners near Sasolburg.
The world’s worst disaster was recorded in China on April 26, 1942 at the Benxihu Colliery, where 1 549 miners died and Wankie is the eighth deadly coal mining disaster in the world.
Villagers in the Tshatapita kraal of Tshituripasi might not know all these world disasters, but the old ones have vivid memories of the local disaster which plunged the village into mourning.
That disaster arrested development and like procastination, stole so much valuable time.
They have aptly named the site of the little known, but documented disaster “Belavathu” (where people perished).
“I never went to school, but I was here when it happened. Some locals were trapped in the mine,” Mbulaheni Moyo, an old Tshatapita villager said.
“Operations stopped abruptly soon after. Only two bodies came out miraculously,” he said about the disaster, perhaps the worst in the history of Beitbridge mines.
“If the mine had been opened, then maybe, I would have been far ahead in terms of self development. It hurt us,” he said.
His detail was corroborated by Tshinakawo Moyo, who lives at a beautiful model of a Venda traditional home along the road to the mine site.
Aaron Tshivhule Ndou also confirmed being a young man when the accident happened.
Belavathu lies 18km south of Chituripasi Police Station in the environs of the Limpopo valley.
The place is in a sparsely populated bushy area, alive with tall grass and many bird species on its undulating terrain.
Tshatapita villagers enjoy an enviable option to shop either back home in Zimbabwe or in neighbouring South Africa, the latter preferred for cheaper prices.
They “jump” into SA at a point just 6km south of the mine site, where a busy informal crossing point cuts across the mighty, but seasonal Limpopo River, far away from the madding crowds, hassles and bustles and passport formalities at Beitbridge border post.
Some enterprising Tshatapita villagers have already established makeshift “restaurants”, where a meal costs R20 a plate.
A sumptuous rural chicken served with vhuswa (sadza, isitshwala), rice, either with tinned fish, beef or simply fresh scones baked on site and a drink awaits hungry cross-border travellers here.
A more focused woman has brought a gas refrigerator.
Some 50 years now after mining was abandoned due to the Belavathu disaster, Tshinakawo is witnessing its rescucitation by some new arrivals.
“They have come with big machineries and we see a lot of movement,” he says, spotting missing front teeth.
Investors at Beitbridge Colliery have started exploiting the concessions, now known to belong to State Security Minister Kembo Mohadi, who is the Member of Parliament for the area.
“We started operations a few months ago and soon, it will be all systems go. We are here to stay,” one of the directors of Beitbridge Colliery, Tinashe Kamuriwo, told NewsDay.
“We will reach the product within a few days. Initially, we are doing an opencast approach, but we will do underground extraction with time,” he said.
Researched data on Zimbabwe’s vast coal deposits shows the Bubye Coalfields, also known as Limpopo Valley coalfields, are just from 20 metres under the surface to a depth of 300m, with a possible yield of 60 million tonnes of coking coal.
The coalfields stretch for about 40km to the north of Belavathu, to the east of Bubye River and in the south are believed to spill into SA below the Limpopo riverbed.
It lies directly opposite Tshikondeni Coal Mine in SA, whose tunnels are believed to be going towards Zimbabwe.
Up to 19 drill holes have been cited for the extraction of the resource at Beitbridge Colliery.
Further investigations of methane gas extraction are yet to be done.
Methane is useful for electricity generation, where it is used as a fuel in gas turbines or steam generators and is known to produce less carbon dioxide compared to other hydrocarbon fuels.
“The mine has a life of more than 60 years,” said Kamuriwo, who on the project partners his brother Rodwell and a South African Thabiso Mofokeng.
Beitbridge Rural District Council chief executive Peter Moyo, in whose area the mine falls, already sees the mine as a game changer in the economic and social development.
“We expect massive development, employment, a new settlement and huge social upliftment,” he said.
“The investors want to put up a small town and surveyors are coming. There is a proposal for a bridge to link the mine directly with SA and a new fully-fledged border post and the chances of locals picking up employment are broad. A road to the site of the bridge has already been opened,” Peter said.
His council expects royalties from the venture, rates and licence fees from the massive project to employ 70% locals.
Kamuriwo said where ever possible, labour would be recruited from the locals.
“Apart from where we cannot get local skilled labour, we will engage locals,” he said.
Like Peter, Kamuriwo said a delegation of senior government officials representing various ministries had already visited the site to investigate the establishment of a border post.
It is easy to link the mine with SA markets because superior roads are close at Tshikondeni Mine, so initially a causeway will be built ahead of the bridge.
Beitbridge Colliery also said they will build a hospital and schools close to the mine area and Beitbridge’s first university to be situated near or in Beitbridge town.
Fears are abound though of a ghost town in the event coal reserves are exhausted.
“We are offering them an alternative to invest in Beitbridge town if they wish,” Beitbridge town secretary Loud Ramagkapola, who also visited the mine, said.
Ghost towns in Zimbabwe have been created at Chakari, Kamativi and Mhangura, where useful structures lie disused after the mines were exhausted.
Beitbridge Colliery’s arrival has, however, already paid dividends to the local community, with all roads leading to Tshituripasi getting attention.
Department of Roads and the District Development Fund (DDF) have, however, taken longer than necessary to complete bridges, where they were washed away by rains in the past seasons.
In line with African tradition, the district administrator’s office is co-ordinating a function to remember the pioneer miners who pershed in the 1967 explosion.
“We will hold a function to remember the miners,” assistant district administrator at Beitbridge, Jahson Mugodzwa, said.
Peter said investigations to establish the names of locals who perished in the mine were underway and the ceremony to celebrate their efforts and appease the spirits would be done soon.
Ndou works for the new miners and says the opening of the mine will bring development and he is happy to be part of it.
“Now we know our relatives did not die in vain. I might be too old to work, but the feeling is good experience,” Mbulaheni, approximately in his 70s, smiled.
He might be too old for mine work, but Beitbridge Colliery has numerous community upliftment projects like horticulture and irrigated farming as part of its corporate social responsibility.
Kamuriwo believes Beitbridge East will never be the same again.