By Nomalanga Moyo
The bodies of at least 22 Zimbabweans who perished in a disused gold mine in Roodeport, South Africa, last week will start arriving in the country this week.
A funeral parlour in Bulawayo is expected to receive the bodies from Wednesday while a mass prayer has been planned for the bereaved families.
The 22 Zimbabweans were among dozens of illegal miners from across the region, among them Mozambicans, Malawians, Sothos from Lesotho, and South Africans.
Although the cause of death has not been officially announced as post-mortem examinations are ongoing, indications point to carbon monoxide poisoning.
A source close to the tragedy told SW Radio Africa that the physical symptoms on the deceased suggest that they could have died from inhaling the fatal gas.
The South African authorities have refused to rescue the trapped miners or to retrieve the bodies citing safety concerns. Relatives and fellow illegal miners have been retrieving the bodies, with reports suggesting that at least 40 others are still trapped underground.
The rescuers are said to be walking a distance of at least 15kilometres underground to retrieve the bodies.
“Most of those involved in the operation are people from the Midlands areas of Kana Mission in Gokwe and Nkayi,” a source told this station Monday, preferring not to be named.
One Gokwe family lost 7 members in the disaster, a situation that relatives were struggling to come to terms with, the State-run Chronicle newspaper said Monday.
Themba Ncube, from Kana Mission, also in Gokwe, told the newspaper that two of the dead miners were from his family.
“One of the people who died is my brother, Danisa and I am failing to come to terms with the tragedy. The second person is my nephew and as a family we are mourning two people,” Ncube is quoted as saying.
The Zimbabwean government is said to be assisting with documentation to facilitate the repatriations, as most of the deceased were in South Africa illegally.
A statement from the Zim government on Saturday saluted those who made efforts to rescue their trapped compatriots and to retrieve the bodies, but did not indicate whether there will be any practical help from the State.
“Our government has not offered any other help so far beyond its clerical duty of providing documentation for the deceased bodies to be repatriated to Zimbabwe,” said SW Radio Africa correspondent Lionel Saungweme who spoke to some of the bereaved.
“This government has failed not only the 22 Zimbabweans who have died but the four million others who are enduring various hardships and dicing with death on a daily basis in that country.
“Given the magnitude of this tragedy the government should declare this a national disaster. If they declared the flooding at Tokwe-Mukosi which didn’t claim any lives what’s stopping them from doing so in this case?” Saungweme questioned.
A Johannesburg-based Zim writer told SW Radio Africa that fellow Zimbabweans were contributing towards the repatriation expenses. Several individuals and groups are said to be coordinating the efforts to send the bodies home for burial.
Two weeks ago two Zimbabweans died in another disused South African gold mine in Benoni, following clashes with a rival group who trapped them inside. SW Radio Africa