MINES minister Winston Chitando on Wednesday came under fire from legislators demanding answers on what his ministry was doing to prevent fatal mine accidents.
Legislators from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy also piled pressure on Chitando over his ministry’s sluggish approach to addressing mine disasters, as it has failed to rescue dozens of people still trapped in three separate mines that collapsed.
Chitando had to give an update on the Mines and Minerals (Amendment) Bill and progress on the US$12 billion mining economy by 2023.
It was the mine accidents that took the greater part of the oral evidence session with members of the committee taking turns to grill the minister, demanding that he pushes to rescind a directive made by the government not to exhume bodies trapped in two mines, a move largely described by the committee as tantamount to declaring the accident scenes grave sites.
Emotionally charged committee members demanded immediate action to the effect of exhuming people who are feared dead after the mines collapsed, to bring closure to their families and in line with African culture.
This came after a mine collapsed in Bindura on November 28, trapping dozens of people with six escaping. The Bindura catastrophe came weeks after another mine collapse claimed six lives in Esigodini, Matabeleland South.
Another mine collapse also claimed lives in Chegutu. Some victims of these accidents are still trapped underground at a depth of as much as 70 metres and no efforts, at least officially, are currently being made to retrieve their remains.
This brings into sharp focus the country’s disaster preparedness and accident response systems and comes after Cyclone Idai of early 2019 claimed hundreds of lives in Manicaland.
Bureaucracy, a lack of funding and technical knowhow has been cited as among the reasons Zimbabwe is late to respond to such disasters, costing lives that can otherwise be saved.
Portfolio committee chair Edmond Mkaratigwa (Zanu PF, Shurugwi South MP) demanded clear answers on what government was doing to prevent mine accidents. He also insisted the remains of victims be retrieved for a decent burial.
“One of the chiefs in Chegutu cried and knelt; he said two of his sons were trapped and he begged us to make sure they are dug out. It was touching and painful to watch. Yet a signature from your engineer stopped the rescue mission,” Mkaratigwa said.
He said a visit to Chegutu exposed how inspectors never went into the shafts. Committee members alleged attempts were made for a rescue in Bindura and not Esigodini because of tribalism.
Members also said groups of artisanal miners had rescued their counterparts who were trapped underground hence the need for a more organised approach to retrieve bodies.
Chitando promised to convene a meeting with ministry officials on the matter after the committee demanded solutions that could possibly allow the bodies of the mine crash victims to be retrieved.
Mkaratigwa also demanded a commitment for feedback, which Chitando promised to give next week on Monday.
“We have witnessed a number of accidents which have taken place in the country. They are from a mixture of people undertaking mining legally and illegally. Illegally, by people mining in concessions which do not belong to them and in some cases the people will not be aware that mining is taking place,” Chitando said.
To prevent accidents, he said as a general thrust there is a need to increase the visibility of the inspectors.
Chitando said the inspectors were supposed to have a close interface with mining operations, but the resources were limited. There was a shortage of human resources and vehicles, for instance, each province only had two vehicles.
“In the last few years there has been a huge increase in mining concessions and mining operations in the country without a corresponding increase in the resources for the role of mining inspectors to effectively carry out their work,” he added.