A sombre atmosphere hovers over the mining town of Hwange every year on June 6 in remembrance of the explosion which shook the world in 1972. At 10:25am, a minute of silence is observed to remember the 427 miners who perished at Hwange Colliery Company’s underground mine.
By Lutholuhle Nyakubaya in Hwange
The tragedy took place when an underground explosion occurred at the No.2 Colliery shaft that was known as Kamandama. With 426 fatalities, it remains the deadliest mine accident to date in both the history of Zimbabwe and internationally. It is ranked number eight in world’s worst mines disasters list.
Initially, it was believed that 468 miners were trapped, but the number decreased after a number of people were rescued after the initial explosions. Two new explosions on June 7 poured clouds of poisonous gas into the 4,8km of tunnels, making further rescue attempts impossible. On June 9, the then general manager of Wankie Colliery, Gordon Livingstone-Blevins, decided to leave the 427 bodies underground and declared it a Kamandama mass grave.
Wives of some of the trapped miners thronged the area hoping that one day a miracle would happen and they see their loved ones again.
“Memories are still fresh. I remember I spent a week coming to Kamandama hoping that I would see my husband who was trapped in the mine,” said Shantani Nyathi (65), whose husband perished in the disaster.
Widows, relatives and children of those who died in the disaster converge at the Kamandama grave to pay their respect; they pay homage to them through the laying of wreaths at the grave. Some families weep and pour out their hearts on the grave as they see it as a reconnection period with their loved ones.
Hwange Colliery Company managing director Thomas Makore said June 6 was of paramount importance as the coal mining company gets comfort in the positive strides that the company has made in ensuring that such a tragic event does not recur.
“The company has made efforts that the Kamandama does not occur again through a raft of measures, including but not limited to safety promotion and behaviour change at workplace,” he said.
He said the company had the vision of Zero Injury, Zero Damage and Zero Pollution of Environment.
Although Hwange Colliery Company has improved on the workers’ safety, Makore said the company was still supporting the now 72 widows who were left by their husbands 45 years ago.
“It is with a great sense of responsibility that Hwange Colliery Company feels indebted to look after the Kamandama widows and their families as pure religion says it is good to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and taking care of them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Associated Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe Tinago Ruzive said government should have vigilant inspectorates to avoid tragedies similar to the Kamandama disaster.
“The government inspectorate department is not visible in the mining sector; workers are exposed to dangerous gases due to relaxed measures,” he said.
He urged mining companies, especially Chinese-owned ones, to ensure that safety was being observed.
“The Chinese are our friends, yes, but they are doing what they are not supposed to be doing to workers, most workers work without goggles, safety shoes and other protective clothes,” he said.
This year, the Kamandama disaster commemorations began with a golf tournament on June 5 where 61 golfers battled for honours in an annual tournament whose proceeds were channelled towards the Kamandama Trust Fund. More than $6 000 was raised from the golf tourney this year.