Freedom Mupanedemo and Thupeyo Muleya
Two bodies of the six people who were swept away on Sunday while crossing a flooded Gweru River in the Midlands Province, were yesterday retrieved from the vehicle.
Other five people were reportedly swept away in the Limpopo River in Beitbridge and police are still searching for them.
The retrieval of the bodies in Gweru followed combined efforts involving the Gweru District Civil Protection Unit, the police Sub-Aqua Unit and other private players.
The two bodies were found in the car with seat belts still fastened. It turned out that the six were using an Isuzu twin cab, and not a Toyota Hilux as earlier reported.
The vehicle had been missing since Sunday and was found yesterday as water levels subsided.
It took close to four hours for the police Sub-Aqua Unit and the search party to drag the car out of the water before retrieving the bodies.
Midlands provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Emmanuel Mahoko, yesterday confirmed the retrieval of the bodies.
“The search party has so far managed to retrieve two bodies and we are continuing with the efforts to locate the remaining four,” he said.
“The search is ongoing and with the water level becoming low, we hope they will be found soon but so far, we haven’t got any new developments.”
One of the bodies has been identified as that of Tinashe Chiwawa, who was employed by Gweru City Council. Gweru Mayor Josiah Makombe, who conveyed his condolences to the Chiwawa family, said Tinashe was not on duty when tragedy struck.
“We convey our deepest condolences to the Chiwawa family. We understand he was not on duty when the unfortunate incident occurred,” he said.
The six were believed to be on a mining mission when they were swept away.
Their Isuzu vehicle was towing a mining compressor with witnesses saying it was the compressor that was swept away first.
“I was watching when the whole incident occurred and I was the first to make a police report after the unfortunate incident,” said Mr Benson Matare, who stays a stone’s throw away from the Gweru River bridge in Montrose area.
“These people initially had an argument before they decided to try and cross the river. They stopped their car and disembarked and some small argument ensued. They then agreed to cross and in the process they were swept away,” he said.
Head of the Gweru District Civil Protection Unit, who is also Gweru District Development Coordinator Mr Jorum Chimedza, said efforts were underway to establish the whereabouts of the other four passengers.
Meanwhile, the Sub Aqua Unit has started searching for five people who drowned while attempting to cross the flooded Limpopo River last week. The suspected border jumpers drowned at separate illegal crossing points between January 2 and January 9.
Sources close to the case said in the first incident, two people were swept away by the river current at the Chinyampanze area on Saturday last week.
“They were part of nine people who are in the business of carrying goods across the river for smugglers.
“On this day, they attempted to cross the river in a single file while holding each other’s hands and when they were midway in the river, the current became strong and it overpowered them,” said the official.
The source said three people managed to swim to South Africa while four others managed to get to the Zimbabwe side.
“Unfortunately, the two men could not swim and were swept away,” added the official.
Police officer commanding Beitbridge district, Chief Superintendent Tichaona Nyongo, said: “Yes, we have received that report and two other separate incidents which occurred at River Ranch and Chinyampanze.
“We have since summoned the Sub Aqua Unit and they are busy with searches on site,” said Chief Supt Nyongo.
He said Liberty Sinyoro (23) from the Makakhavhule area drowned on Thursday last week while attempting to cross the Limpopo River at the River Ranch illegal crossing point.
The third incident, which claimed the lives of Thandulwazi Ndlovu (40) and Michel Moyo, both of Tsholotsho, occurred at Chinyampanze at around 6am on Saturday morning.
“The duo was part of some people who were crossing into South Africa illegally. As police, we continue to discourage people from using undesignated entry and exit points. They will be risking both their lives and prosecution for breaking the laws of the land,” said Chief Supt Nyongo.
Since the start of the rainy season police have only recovered the body of one border jumper who drowned in the Limpopo River around the Panda Mine area.
The naked corpse was spotted by a man who was looking for his donkeys around that area.
The body was retrieved at an advanced state of decomposition and ferried to Beitbridge District Hospital Mortuary.
Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Kazembe Kazembe, said last week Government had upgraded security along the border with South Africa to prevent irregular migration and smuggling.