Shocking deaths at Chiadzwa

MARANGE - At least 15 illegal diamond miners are feared dead after a red zone mine shaft they were working in collapsed as they attempted to flee a police raid late on Tuesday night.

This puts to shame claims by under pressure Mines minister Walter Chidakwa that chaos has not engulfed the Marange diamond fields ever since he controversially announced that the government was expropriating all the gem claims in the area.

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba confirmed last night that three bodies had been retrieved from a shaft at Diamond Mining Company (DMC’s) concession in Zengeni, a red zone area that Chidakwa has claimed is secure.

Charamba said authorities were not sure about the exact number of fatalities and casualties, adding that a panner who survived the carnage had told police that he believed there were at least seven other illegal miners who were still trapped in the collapsed shaft which was also waterlogged.

“Yes, there are panners still trapped there, and one was found injured and he indicated that there are others inside and the sub aqua team and rescuers using excavators are trying to dig out soil and water,” Charamba said.

Chidakwa has over the past week misled Zimbabweans and President Robert Mugabe that the situation at Chiadzwa was peaceful and that security in the area was tight — with no illegal miners operating in the area.

However, and most distressingly, there were reports last night that apart from the casualties at the DMC concession, up to 20 other panners were trapped in a shaft at the nearby Anjin Mine — with authorities also fearing for their lives.

“A stampede to run away from the police triggered the collapse of the mine because people who were running out of the mine shaft shook the ground so much that the tunnel which was only seven to eight metres below the surface collapsed,” a freelance human rights monitor, David Mukundu, told the Daily News.

DMC managing director Ramzi Malik referred enquiries to ministry of Mines officials, saying his staff did not have access to the mine ever since the government’s hostile takeover of their operations.

“We don’t have any information on what could be happening there since the ministry of Mines took over and put in their security personnel. So, ask the ministry of Mines and possibly police.

“We are not even allowed use of the vehicles there. Everyone is out of the mine premises and our movement there is restricted,” Malik told the Daily News.

Chidakwa refused to answer questions from the Daily News and asked the paper to send text messages which he had not responded to at the time of going to press.

Villagers who spoke to the newspaper recounted hearing of running battles between police and hordes of miners, many of them said to have been injured a day before the disaster.

“Gwejas “(illegal miners) fought running battles with the police last night and there were many people who were injured at the diamond base camp,” a villager said, adding that underground tunnels had become death traps as the ground had been heavily disturbed by heavy open cast mining equipment and the recent deluge of rain.

“Artisanal miners are getting into pits that they know have been yielding huge returns for the mining companies. They are using these dangerous tunnels to follow diamond belts,” an Anjin employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Daily News.

A brooding China warned Zimbabwe to beware on Monday after the government ill-advisedly moved to seize all diamond mining claims in Chiadzwa last week, including those in which Chinese companies have interests.

At the same time, the High Court temporarily chucked police out of Mbada Diamonds’ Chiadzwa operations, after shareholder Grandwell Holdings — a subsidiary of South African conglomerate, The New Reclamation Group — sought legal recourse over the government’s controversial move.

China, which has been one of the few powers that have kept their relations with Harare warm over the past 16 years of political and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe, told the Daily News that Zimbabwe ought to respect property rights in the country.

“We hope that the Zimbabwean side would earnestly safeguard the legitimate rights of the Chinese companies and employees, according to the local laws and the ‘Agreement on the encouragement and reciprocal protection of investments between China and Zimbabwe,” Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Huang Ping said in a terse email response to questions.

“The Chinese side is willing to enhance communication and negotiation with the Zimbabwean side, and together create a conducive environment for companies from both sides to conduct mutually-beneficial cooperation,” Ping added.

Analysts canvassed by the Daily News said although the statement was couched in diplomatic language, its message was “clear and hard-hitting” — and amounted to Zimbabwe being “put on notice” by the Asian giant.

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