By Tinashe Mungazi
In yet another harrowing incident, a 37-year-old Hwange woman was buried alive Saturday while foraging for coke at an old mine dump.
Since the Covid-19 induced national lockdown, residents at the mining town have been resorting to various but sometimes risky initiatives to survive.
According to sources privy to the incident, the deceased, Sekani Mathe and an unnamed friend were scavenging for coke at an old dumpsite in Madumabisa Village when tragedy struck.
“We understand a heap of coal fell on her as the ground on which she was standing on caved in burying her in the rumble. In a state of panic, her friend tried to rescue her by digging on the spot she last saw her on but it was in vain,” said the source.
Following, the friend’s calls for help, residents rushed to look for an excavator to rescue her but the process took longer.
When the excavator arrived, Mathe was dead and her body was taken to Hwange Colliery hospital mortuary.
“Her body was retrieved 45 minutes later, still trapped under a rumble of coal. You see how economic challenges are forcing people especially women to resort to such risks,” the source said.
The incident comes barely five months after a similar one claimed the life of a woman from the same area and left another nursing burn injuries having narrowly escaped. The ground gave in, trapping both women under a rumble of coal as they searched for coke.
Although Matabeleland North Police Provincial Spokesperson, Inspector Glory Banda, could not immediately shed light on the circumstances Greater Whange Residents Trust coordinator, Fidelis Chima, confirmed the development.
Chima also appealed to local companies to employ women as a counter measures against such disasters.
“It is sad to record a death of another woman who was foraging for coke at Madumabisa. The country’s economic situation has led women to participate in high risk activities. Local companies must consider employing women or come up with income generating projects for the,” he said.
In order to survive, some residents have taken to illegally foraging for coke at old mine dumps, which carry its own share of dangers while women bear the brunt of the effects as they risk their lives to fend for their families.
A 50kg bag of the illegally foraged coke is reportedly sold for a US$1 by truck drivers, who resell in other places fueling the illegal activity.
Since the activity is illegal the transactional arrangements take place at night away from prying eyes of the public or authorities.
Some have even resorted to scavenging for old metal which is also sold to these truck drivers for as little at US$4 for a kilogramme.
An official representing one of the companies contracted by Hwange Colliery Company to reclaim some old mine dumps told CITE that the illegal foraging of coke especially by women was on the rise.
“We did our investigation on Saturday and there is an area four hauling coke, that was done a long time ago. So we are reclaiming those products but now we have to deal with omagweja, a term used to describe those illegally reclaiming coke. We do have employees who are contractors but what happens now is residents of No. 2 village are reclaiming the coal illegally,” said the official on condition of anonymity.
The company believes the collapse that took place was caused by ground instability as a result of hauling and recent rains.
“Hauling creates high walls that are unsafe for anyone to be near. For us, we haul the coal in tippers before screening at a plant. So now it appears these women exposed themselves to the danger of collapse because they stood on that high wall to pick coke. The recent rains in Hwange must have made the high wall unstable and unfortunately led to its collapse,” said the official.
“I received a call when I was in No. 1 (town) and had to immediately look for a front end loader to excavate the body, which was out of our operational boundary.”
The official added that efforts to educate residents on the dangers of coke foraging coupled with security measures put in place to dissuade that activity seemed to be ignored.