Standoff as 300 illegal miners refuse to leave Bubi gold mine shaft
MORE than 300 gold panners have been trapped in a 150 metre deep mine shaft at Durban Gold Mine in Bubi District since Monday.
Yesterday, the illegal miners were involved in a standoff with officials from Duration Gold which owns the mine as they were refusing to come out of the shaft, fearing arrest. The mine owners had brought rescue teams. The illegal miners are said to have invaded the mine last week after allegedly tampering with the local electricity system.
The illegal miners were each paying an unnamed businessman $70 to go down into the shaft using his ladder.
Some of the illegal miners said they each paid $500 to security guards to be allowed to extract gold ore for three days.
“Trouble started when the police were called and the businessman withdrew his ladder. People have been trapped without food in the shafts since Monday,” said an illegal miner who declined to be named.
“About 130 of an initial group of more than 300 people have come out using the mine’s lift. The others are hiding in the tunnels fearing arrest.”
More than 50 armed police officers arrived at the mine at around 1 PM to deal with the panners. A group of 13 artisanal miners were engaged to go down into the shaft to convince their counterparts to come out.
“Most of them have vowed not to come out. They are saying they would rather die in there than to come out and face arrest,” said an official.
Durban Mine acting manager, Mr Onias Shanyurai said police had been engaged to forcibly remove the miners.
“We faced a power outage for over 24 hours last week. The group flooded the mine through illegal points which they had created. The rapid and heavy detonation of explosives in the shafts prompted me to engage the police,” he said.
Mr Shanyurai said the mine which had shut down in December 2015, was gearing to re-open before the end of the month.
“We’ve always had running battles with illegal miners but their number is alarming this time around. We got a tip off that there were more than 300 of them and we organised some guys to go down there and advise them to leave before things turned nasty.
“Only 130 of them complied while the rest remained down there. Last week, we are told they would come out of the shaft at night to get food from their bosses and deliver ore that they would have mined,” he said.
The acting mine manager said the illegal miners were indiscriminately blasting in the mine, thereby threatening its structural integrity.
“Police arrived on Monday but still they wouldn’t come out. Later during the night, the owner of the ladder sneaked to the shaft and pulled it out, leaving the panners trapped.
“We’ve engaged the local panners to negotiate with their fellow mates,” he said.
When The Chronicle arrived at the mine, they found a group of police officers from different districts in the province and Bubi Civil Protection Unit already waiting for the public order team to arrive.
Using a “boat” at Double Bank shaft, the negotiating team went down at around 2 PM.
They returned saying some of the illegal miners were hostile and tried to attack them with machetes.
At around 4 PM one of the illegal miners gathered courage and came out of the shaft.
Police and the civil protection unit convinced the panner, only identified as Maposa from Murewa, to return and assure his pals that it was safe.
Later, some illegal miners began trickling out carrying their belongings, including sacks of ore.
As soon as they surfaced, police rushed to frisk them, taking everything they had including their tools before dismissing them.
By the time The Chronicle left at around 5 PM, only nine men had surrendered themselves.
Bubi acting district administrator, Mr Tapiwa Zivovoyi said it was dangerous for such a big number of people to be down the shaft for so long.
“As the civil protection unit, we quickly reacted to the police’s call after they had single handedly failed to control the situation. We feared for these people’s health as there are no toilets down there, hunger, violence, the heavy detonation of explosives among other things.
“We’ve agreed there will be no arrests. When they come out they simply surrender their tools and all the ore, then return to their homes,” he said.
A majority of the amakorokoza begged the DA to organise transport for them to return to their homes as they were penniless.— @winnie_masara
Some of the rescued illegal miners who were trapped at Durban Mine carry ore out of the shaft in Bubi District yesterday. (Picture by Eliah Saushoma)