Freedom Mupanedemo Midlands Bureau
It is a chilly Friday evening and birds perch on miombo woodland that form a thicket around Globe and Phoenix mine, a stone’s throw away from Kwekwe central business district, chirp to their last chorus as if to kiss a long wintry day a nonchalant good-bye.
Tower lights around the city and yonder suburbs illuminate the city to atone for the impending dusk.
Screeching tyres from motorists stampeding home add to the hustle and bustle of the knock off hour as the day tinkers away to pave way for a supposedly quiet and winding winter night.
With the thicket around Globe and Phoenix Mine aiding to the silhouette blanket of the dusk, ghostly figures of illegal gold panners, with underground torch lights on their foreheads, emerge in groups and squadrons, armed with their tools of the trade, ready to start their night underground operations at Globe and Phoenix mine.
Apparently its actually appropriate time to begin their illegal mining activities at this mine which literally seems quiet and abandoned during day, but is actually a hive of activities at night.
Globe and Phoenix mine, for long condemned and closed under the order of the government is teeming with illegal activities at night.
Illegal miners troop into the mine in doves under the cover of the night to conduct operations before they retreat at dawn, to beat police raids which, according to mine owners, normally occur around 9am and 2pm on selected days.
Globe and Phoenix was ordered to suspend operation by the Government eight years ago to work on a rehabilitation exercise amid revelations that some of the mine tunnels were posing a danger to the entire city of Kwekwe.
There was even a hair raising report from Government geologists, though it was dismissed in some sections, which once warned that the entire Kwekwe city was in danger of caving in.
There was even a recommendation — though yet to be implemented — to relocate the District Administrator’s Offices to a safer place because some underground tunnels at Globe and phoenix were allegedly criss-crossing beneath.
The mine management also rebuffed the report then but admitted a rehabilitation exercise was necessary.
Investigations have, however, revealed that closed as it may look, illegal operations, mainly from illegal gold panners, have continued at Globe and Phoenix mine in the last four years ,thereby putting the city of Kwekwe in perpetual danger of one day finding itself sinking into the belly of the earth.
According to the mine owners, the mine has been violently taken over by illegal miners who conduct their operations at night and retreat to their hiding places during the day.
The mine director, Mr Lee John says the mine was no longer manageable as illegal miners harass security personnel at night before they take charge.
“It’s a very difficult situation. The mine has been extensively damaged by illegal miners who come and harass security details at night before they get into the mine to do their mining activities. There are dangerous blasts that occur every now and then underground and it’s very difficult to control them,” he said.
Mr John said police occasionally visit the mine to conduct raid,s but have always been beaten to the game by the illegal miners.
Locals say the Globe and Phoenix was now a battle zone, a place not for the faint-hearted.
Intermittent fights from among the illegal panners themselves do occur, some reportedly turning fatal.
Due to the uncontrolled illegal mining activities, underground mishaps also do occur, again sometimes fatal.
Only two months ago, two illegal miners were trapped to death while 20 others were left unaccounted for after a tunnel collapsed underground.
A security personnel at Globe and Phoenix who declined to be identified says despite all the fatal and other accidents which that underground, the illegal gold miners are unfazed.
“They have continued to be a menace at the mine, retreating by day only to swarm the mine at night.
“There are those who call them “mabhuru” who co-ordinate illegal operations at the mine. They write down people who enter the mine and provide them with security while giving them signals.
They in turn get paid as the illegal miners have practically taken over the mine,” he said.
The security personnel says what was worrying was that the random “plunder” of the mine by the illegal miners continues to compromise the safety of Kwekwe Central business district.
He blamed the laxity on the part of the mine management and some existing legal disputes as some of the reasons why the issue of illegal miners is not being dealt with once and for all.
“The fact that there were no longer any formal mining operations because of the Government directive and other disputes is the reason why there has been some laxity and no zeal to remove illegal panners on the part of the mine management,” he said.
Chief Government Engineer Michael Munodawafa who acknowledged the existence of a geological report on the danger posed by mining tunnels that run under Kwekwe city said it was the responsibility of Globe and Phoenix owners to protect the mine from the continued plunder by illegal miners.
He said the mine owners will also have to shoulder responsibility if a disaster happens at the mine.
“Normally it is the responsibility of the mine owners to provide security at their premises, including dealing with illegal activities that could be taking place at the mine.
“If they are being overwhelmed, they can seek assistance from the police but because they are the holders of a licence issued by the Ministry of Mines indicating the mine is theirs. Any disaster that occurs there its their responsibility,” said Eng Munodawafa.
He said a geological report that was complied about three months ago when some illegal miners were trapped underground revealed that the mine had been extensively damaged by the ongoing illegal activities.
One of the oldest mines in Zimbabwe, Globe and Phoenix mine stopped formal operations about eight years ago when geological reports indicated the dangers the mine was posing to the city.