BY RICHARD MUPONDE

ANTI-RIOT police have sealed off the scene of the Matobo mine disaster, where five gold panners perished when a shaft collapsed at Nugget Mine early this week.

Three of the four injured artisanal miners are nursing injuries at United Bulawayo Hospitals.

The deployment of riot police was after rescue operations were called off on Tuesday evening, when it was ascertained that there were no other casualties except the nine accounted for.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he would comment after he had obtained full information from the ground.

“I am out of office. Phone me after lunch, when I would get all the details,” Nyathi said.

However, on a visit to the mine yesterday, a Southern Eye crew found the mine sealed-off and all the illegal gold panners cleared.

Hordes of panners were hovering around in the peripheries of the mine, presumably waiting for a chance to enter the shafts, but the whole area was a sea of grey and blue, as police in riot gear cordoned off the shaft.

The mineshaft, which was at the centre of a gun battle pitting a well-known gold baron from Esigodini, Baron Dube, collapsed on Monday morning.

After the war involving rival gangs, a scramble for the pit by illegal miners ensued, with some said to be coming from as far afield as Kwekwe, Zvishavane, Filabusi and
Matobo, contributing to the collapse of the shaft.

A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity at the scene said the rescue operations were called off yesterday night after it was discovered that there was no one trapped.

“All the people who were in the shaft were cleared yesterday. It was only the five bodies and the four who were rescued, who were the casualties of the mishap. No one else
is trapped or was trapped as of 5pm on Tuesday when the rescue operation was called off. We are deployed here to cordon off the whole area, as it was unsafe to leave the
panners to continue with their operations,” he said.

There were also reports that government was planning to bring in graders and front-loaders to seal off the shafts.