BY Brenna Matendere

Two artisanal miners were confirmed dead, while 20 others were trapped underground following a mineshaft collapse at Globe and Phoenix Mine in Kwekwe yesterday.

Kwekwe district Department of Civil Protection head and district co-ordinator, Fortune Mpungu told NewsDay that the process of retrieving the bodies trapped underground was ongoing.

“I can confirm that a section of the mine collapsed. We are told that a huge boulder collapsed and it trapped the artisanal miners who were inside. So far we have retrieved two bodies and some are still trapped inside,” he said.

The mine is the oldest in Kwekwe having been pegged on the site of ancient gold workings in 1894 by prospectors Edward Thornton Pearson and Joseph Schukala.

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It is located a few metres from the central business district westwards.

The mine has not been operating formally, having been shut down in 2017, but illegal miners have been clandestinely finding their way into the shafts during the night.

When NewsDay arrived at the scene yesterday, police and some artisanal miners were busy trying to retrieve the bodies and search for survivors. The bodies that had been retrieved were later ferried to Kwekwe General Hospital mortuary.

Mpungu said those trapped had trespassed into the shafts.

“Yes, no company has been operating at the mine lately, but the artisanal miners have just been sneaking into the underground shafts illegally. At this stage, we are not very sure of the numbers who are trapped in terms of the dead bodies, but we are working to retrieve all the dead bodies,” he said.

“What we have done is to use explosives to blast the huge boulder that is trapping the miners. That process is still ongoing and there is a big cloud of dust underground right now which makes us unable to see anything or count the bodies.”

Sources said the artisanal miners have been blasting the pillars that hold up the mine tunnels, resulting in the entire underground system weakening, which ultimately resulted in the mine collapse.

However, Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya (MDC) said some people indicated to him that about 15 people could be trapped underground.

“It is reported that the artisanal miners enter through a pit on the southern side of town and work on the old workings left by the previous mining company. This then weakens the roof of the tunnels resulting in the pillars falling and this is what happened in this case. There are four people confirmed to be under the boulder although the actual total figure is suspected to be about 15,” he said.