By Nqobile Tshili and Auxilia Katongomara
Zimbabweans are feared to be among the people who died in a blast that happened at a disused mine in South Africa where 29 bodies have been retrieved while 11 people were rescued.
The accident is suspected to have occurred on Thursday last week at Harmony Gold mine shaft in Welkom, Free State, but was discovered earlier this week.
Zimbabwe Consul-General in South Africa Mr Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro said the suspected illegal miners are said to have forced open the defunct mine using explosives.
After several blasts the mine collapsed on them.
He said South African officials have started a rescue mission which has seen several bodies being removed.
“It’s a combination of the blast plus the suffocation from the blast because of the gases. So my understanding is that they are suspecting that these people are from three nationalities, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe,” he said.
“So far they have removed 29 bodies and managed to rescue 11 people. The 11 are being held so that they can assist in the identification of bodies and providing information on what really happened.”
Mr Mukonoweshuro said it was disturbing that the illegal miners blasted a defunct mine sealed with concrete to gain entry, exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals.
“It’s so unfortunate that the Zimbabweans continue to take risks in these disused mines in trying to eke a living. Unfortunately these scenarios always play out and no one knows how to stop them. There is a debate in the country on how they can stop it and in this incident the mine was actually sealed but they blew it open,” said Mr Mukonoweshuro.
He said today they will engage the South African authorities who will provide refined information on what really happened.
Mr Mukonoweshuro said although it was understandable that the country’s citizens will be trying to fend for their families, they should avoid taking life- threatening jobs.
“We continue to urge our people to desist from entering disused mines because they risk their lives all the time. And we also want to pay tribute to those who are assisting, the government of South Africa and we’re sorry if there are any Zimbabweans who have lost their lives in this tragedy,” said Mr Mukonoweshuro.
In 2014, 27 Zimbabweans from Gokwe and Nkayi suffocated in a shaft at Roodepoort Mine, in Johannesburg West, South Africa, after inhaling carbon monoxide.
Meanwhile, South Africa has deported over 10 000 Zimbabweans since last year, spending R33 million every month on extraditing the illegal immigrants.
An estimated two million Zimbabweans are living in South Africa.
Mr Mukonoweshuro said the majority of the deportees are over-stayers.
“Those are statistics from last year. Those are over- stayers, that’s what I understand. They are over-stayers from Lindela. This is not a one-time deportation, it’s an annual figure,” said Mr Mukonoweshuro.
About 10 433 Zimbabweans have been deported since last year together with nationals from other neighbouring countries such as Mozambique, Lesotho and Malawi.
South Africa’s department of Home Affairs said the deportations were in line with the Immigration Act which they were implementing in a non-discriminatory manner.
“Anyone found to have obtained any enabling document in a fraudulent manner is dealt with according to the legislative prescripts,” said the department’s spokesperson Mr Thabo Mokgola.
Unconfirmed reports say South Africa has tightened its laws with illegal immigrants appearing in court before deportation.
This measure, according to the reports, was put in place to control the number of illegal immigrants who sneaked back into the country soon after deportation.
At least 200 000 Zimbabweans in South Africa face deportation at the expiry of their special dispensation permits on December 31 this year.
Former South African Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba earlier this year said the special permit arrangement could not continue forever.
He said some Zimbabweans might be forced to regularise their stay in that country or apply for visas like other foreigners.
“We cannot offer permanent residency for such a high number of people,” Minister Gigaba was quoted saying. The Chronicle