In Zimbabwe, the rescue of eight illegal miners on Saturday renewed hope for about 70 people who were earlier this week trapped in flooded shafts, in accident that the government has declared a disaster.
The accident in Battlefields, 175 km (109 miles) west of Harare, happened on Tuesday night and has shone a light on the dangers facing illegal gold miners, who last year contributed a large part of Zimbabwe’s record 33 tonne bullion output.
“So far we have managed to bring out eight miners alive and we are yet to assess and find any more people down there who are still alive,” Tapererwa Paswavaviri, the government deputy chief mining engineer told reporters at the accident scene.
The miners, who were covered in mud, were whisked away by officials before speaking to reporters. Rescuers briefly stopped operations due to rain.
State of disaster declared
Local Government Minister July Moyo said in a statement on Friday the government had declared the incident a disaster and that up to 70 people could have been trapped in the pits.
The government has launched an appeal for $200,000 to be used “to pump out water, feeding the bereaved families and the (rescue) teams on the ground, transportation and burial of the victims”, he said.
“Given the magnitude of this disaster, we kindly appeal to individuals, development partners and the corporate world for assistance in cash and kind,” he said.
Anxious relatives and other miners have continued to camp at the mining site hoping to see their colleagues amid frustration that the rescue process was taking too long.
Battlefields and surrounding areas are rich in gold deposits and popular with artisanal miners, known locally as “Makorokoza” or hustlers, who use picks and shovels and generator-powered water pumps. The makeshift shafts and tunnels can easily collapse in the rainy season when the ground is soft.
The pits are dotted around a clearing some 8 km from the main dirt road. On the edges are shacks made of plastic which serve as accommodation for those digging for gold.
Artisanal mining is not banned outright in Zimbabwe, although it is largely unregulated.
A study by parliament cited by the state-owned Herald showed that artisanal and small-scale miners may have contributed more than half the 24.8 tonnes of gold Zimbabwe produced in 2017.
The country also has valuable platinum, diamond, gold, coal and copper deposits.