ALMOST every week, a gold panner dies in a collapsed mine shaft somewhere in this verdant country. The tragedies that are occurring in mining deserve national attention, but have been ignored for so long. How many bodies have to be buried before the State realises the extent of the problem and does something about it?
Yes, the numbers about rising gold output from informal mining make interesting reading, and we have sanitised gold panning by calling it artisanal mining, but the rising body count of those miners working in conditions akin to slavery tell a different story, one that government needs to pay attention to and is symptomatic of the larger economic malaise.
In the latest tragedy on Tuesday night, dozens of illegal miners who were working the shafts at a disused Cricket Mine at Battlefields were trapped, when a dam wall collapsed and flooded the shafts.
Some 72 hours after the flooding, no rescue had been possible and water pumps were still roaring at the site as desperate efforts by the Civil Protection Unit and teams from nearby mines turned from rescue of possible survivors to recovery of the dead bodies. While initial reports put the number at 23, reports indicate there could be as many as 50.
Some of the shafts were 100 metres deep so chances of finding survivors in those are very slim, according to authorities.
Somewhere on these pages we ask: Eager to boast of rising gold output, and in the scramble among the elite to personally profit, the government is not asking how this gold is being produced, or how many are dying producing it. How many bodies will it take for the authorities and the greedy elite — who are personally benefiting — before something is done about it?
According to official data, Zimbabwe produced just over 33 tonnes of gold and the bulk of this, 21,7 tonnes, was produced by artisanal miners, the sort whose bodies turned up floating when the shafts at Cricket Mine flooded.
Zimbabwe generally and Battlefields and its surroundings in particular, is rich in gold deposits and, therefore, popular with gold panners, whose standard equipment is picks, shovels and generator-powered water pumps. In the rainy season, shaft collapses are the order of the day.
Authorities are aware of this, but have generally turned a blind eye, as long as the numbers showing a growth in the gold output look good while their pockets keep lined.
Reports of machete wars, particularly in the Midlands and Matabeleland South are a daily read, and yet the politicians who are turning up at the scene of the Cricket Mine tragedy are acting shocked and despondent. Spare us, and act to prevent what is fast becoming Zimbabwe’s greatest shame. How can we proudly flaunt the rising gold output, while standing on a pile of dead bodies?
Or maybe its expecting too much from our politicians who are more fond of counting the dollars in their pockets, while turning a blind eye to the unfolding disaster before their eyes.