By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
06 March 2014
As friends and families of 22 of the 23 Zimbabweans who perished in a disused mine in South Africa prepare to accompany the bodies home, an official at the funeral parlour that is handling the repatriations has spoken out.
Roy Ncube, the chairman of Johannesburg-based Queens and Kings Funeral Parlour, says handling the 23 bodies of his fellow countrymen has been a very emotional and painful experience.
The family of the 23rd dead miner collected his body last week.
“These were young people, they must have been aged 30 years and below, judging by the pictures that were brought by their loved ones for the memorial service Wednesday,” Ncube told SW Radio Africa’s Big Picture programme.
According to Ncube, colleagues of the deceased sent out a distress call to the funeral parlour and appealed for food and blankets before the scale of the disaster became known.
He thanked SA-based fellow Zimbabweans for their contributions.
“But the real heroes in all this are the brave young people who sacrificed their lives trying to rescue their trapped friends,” Ncube said.
There are reports that the Zimbabwean miners unwittingly exposed themselves to deadly gas in a bid to evade arrest by the South African police force. It’s believed the deceased were all known to each other and lived in areas bordering the Roodepoort mine. 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.
The businessman said the tragedy should be a message to the South African government to recognise that ‘illegal’ foreigners had the potential to contribute positively to the country’s economy and regularise their stay in the country.
“This will also ensure that they operate legally and in a safe way. The South African government estimates that there are 16,000 illegal miners in the country and the lives of all these people will remain at risk unless something is done,” Ncube added.
The funeral procession is expected to arrive in Bulawayo this weekend where a mass memorial service is planned, before bodies are ferried to different parts of Matebeleland and the Midlands for burial.
Kings and Queens Funeral Parlour provided the coffins and handled the storage and preparation of the bodies ahead of the repatriation. Other groups have also donated towards the funeral expenses.
“This is our 10th year in operation, and when we first started our aim was to afford our compatriots the dignity they deserve both after their death and while mourning the loss of their loved ones. We have stuck to that founding principle,” Ncube added.