By Tichaona Sibanda
SW Radio Africa
5 March 2014
There are reports that the 22 Zimbabwean miners who died in a disused shaft in Johannesburg last week unwittingly exposed themselves to deadly gas in a bid to evade arrest by the South African police force.
It is believed the deceased were all known to each and lived in areas bordering the Roodepoort mine, the scene of the tragedy. One body was claimed by relatives last week and has since been buried while 21 will be repatriated on Friday. Among the victims was a woman, Sipho Ntimeni, who came from Kezi under Chief Malaba.
South African police were reportedly waiting for the miners to emerge from the shaft to arrest them, as they had no proper documentation to live in South Africa.
Determined to avoid detention and immediate deportation, the miners decided to buy time and sought refuge inside the mine. They were not trapped but decided to stay underground in the hope the police would go away. In the process they unknowingly exposed themselves to carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is a gas you can’t see, taste or smell it and it can kill quickly with no warning. Our correspondent Ezra ‘Tshisa’ Sibanda, who visited Roodepoort Mine in Johannesburg last week when the miners were still underground, said had the police retreated, the miners would be alive today.
‘I was visiting a friend in the area when this incident happened. The police at the scene were actually laughing and commenting that the illegal miners were too scared to walk out as they faced imminent arrest.
‘If they had retreated and allowed emergency services to come in and convinced the miners to walk out and be treated for inhaling the deadly gas, this whole tragedy wouldn’t have happened,’ said Sibanda.
He said the illegal miners who perished had run away from the economic and political troubles in Zimbabwe, and were risking their lives to enter disused mines in search of income.
‘They were trying to earn a living, though using dangerous methods. You can’t blame them for that, you have to blame the system that is forcing them to run away from home,’ Sibanda added.
Our Bulawayo correspondent Lionel Saungweme said the bodies would be repatriated to Bulawayo on Friday where a funeral service will be held on Saturday.
After the service, all the bodies will be taken to their respective towns and villages for burial. The majority of the victims will be buried in Bulawayo.
List of the victims.
From Nkayi district under Chief Madliwa
From Gokwe under chief Makora
From Tsholotsho under chief Siphoso
One victim with surname Mathe From KweKwe under chief Nduku