Zhombe, April 20, 2014 – Sixteen gold panners from Empress in Zhombe spent three days trapped underground after the owner of a mine where they were conducting illegal mining hired an excavator and covered the tunnel which they had used to go underground.
Relatives of the trapped miners approached police at Zhombe after spending two days trying to rescue their trapped loved ones.
The incident occurred between Saturday and Monday last week when all the 16 were later rescued through the assistance of the police.
According to witnesses, the police intervened and ordered the miner, only identified as Mr Gleeman, to use the excavator to reopen the tunnel which he had covered so as to rescue the trapped group.
“It took three days for the trapped miners to be rescued through the same tunnel following police intervention. Mr Gleeman, who claimed that he was not aware that there were people conducting mining activities underground when he covered the tunnel, told the police that he had covered the tunnel to block illegal panners who were wreaking havoc at his mine and he got away with that,” said a witness.
The witnesses, however, insisted that Mr Gleeman knew that there were people underground.
“Mr Gleeman was aware that there were people who were underground when he hired an excavator and covered the only tunnel which is used at the mine to go underground,” said the witness.
Some of the miners who survived a three-day horror experience under the earth said they were surprised that the police did not move in to arrest Mr Gleeman following the incident.
“It is clear that Mr Gleeman’s intention was to kill us because we could have suffocated while underground. It was through God’s grace that we survived and we all expected to see Mr Gleeman behind bars following this incident. We are surprised that until now no arrest has been made,” said Mr Andrew Chuma.
Mr Chuma said there were three groups which were operating at the mining claim and it was during their group’s turn to go underground when they met their fate.
“There three syndicates which have been operating at this mine and these three groups are registered. We have been having problems with Mr Gleeman who is claiming that the area is his private property, but we least expected him to act in the manner he did,” he said.
Another miner and chairman of the Pamela syndicate, which was trapped, Mr Shepherd Tuundura, said at first they thought the mine tunnel had collapsed.
“We spent the first day trying to rescue ourselves but we stopped digging when we realised that the rubble we were digging was actually reducing the open space we had underground.
We were praying knowing that some of our colleagues outside were aware of our fate and they were doing something to try and rescue us,” he said.
Another survivor, Mr Mandla Ndlovu, said they were surviving on water while encouraging each other that they would be eventually rescued.
“Everyone was confused we did not know what happened and fatigue was beginning to strike. We heaved a sigh on the third day when we were finally rescued only to learn with disgust that it was someone who wanted to kill us,” he said.
The survivors said they were worried that the police did not arrest Mr Gleeman.
Police spokesperson for Midlands province Inspector Joel Goko said he was not aware of the incident.
Police in Zhombe, however, told Sunday News that there were no criminal charges which could be preferred against Mr Gleeman after he indicated that he was not aware that there were people underground at his mine when he hired an excavator to cover the tunnel.
“The papers shown to us confirm that Mr Gleeman is entitled to that mining claim. He is arguing that when he hired an excavator to cover the tunnel which some illegal panners used to go underground, he was not aware that there were people underground,” said the police officer.
Efforts to get a comment from Mr Gleeman were fruitless.
Mr Robert Masundire, the manager of the Pamala Mining Claims owned by Mr Gleeman, said they were sealing the tunnel following running battles with illegal panners.
“We are having problems here with illegal gold panners and the police are aware of the challenge. They conduct routine patrols to drive away panners and the police can give you full details on what transpired,” he said.