Unlearnt Lessons From the Kamandama Disaster

In the history of mining in Zimbabwe, Kamandama disaster remains the deadliest. On June 6, 1972, four hundred and twenty seven mine workers perished at the then Wankie Colliery’s Number 2 shaft when a string of underground gas explosions ripped through the mine.

While accounts about what went wrong on the day remain unclear, Wankie Colliery Managing Director Kudzai Bwerinofa argues that the blast could have been caused by a methane gas explosion which in turn triggered a coal dust explosion that burnt through the mine.

It therefore marks a painful reminder of the hazards of mining and the long-term effects of these disasters on surviving families who continue to shoulder the adverse impacts of mining.

The Kamandama disaster typifies the disregard for the health and safety of mineworkers and their families in Zimbabwe.

Most of the victims who were mostly in their 20s and 30s left young families behind –most of whom were deprived of quality education and decent livelihoods.

These families, predominantly the widows, continue to be neglected by both the government of Zimbabwe and the Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL).

Beyond annual commemorations and patronising requiems, the government of Zimbabwe and the Hwange Colliery Company Limited are best positioned to cater for and offer the surviving families, a better lease to life.

Dozens of these widows never remarried after being told by HCCL management that they would lose claims including houses

Dozens of these widows never remarried after being told by HCCL management that they would lose claims including houses if they remarried.

Yet, every June 6, they are invited to the colliery offered little food hampers and transport fares with no medical cover, no habitable accommodation and no allowances to keep going.

Although the Hwange Colliery Company has this year deferred commemoration of the Kamandama Mine disaster, it is worthy of note that many lives continue to be lost at mining sites across Zimbabwe.

In 2020, over a hundred artisanal and small-scale mineworkers died in mine accidents. At Ran Mine in Bindura, over 30 artisanal miners died after a disused mine shaft collapsed on them.

Five artisanal miners were buried alive after a shaft collapsed on them at Tusk Mine in Chegutu. At Matshetshe mine in Esigodini, rescue mission was abandoned after 11 days and six fatalities in the mining underground.

An unknown number of artisanal miners were also killed when Chinese gold panners closed a shaft at Premier Estate. They were fully aware of the presence of artisanal miners underground in November 2020.  

In the statement issued yesterday by the mining firm, the cancellation was occasioned by the desire to adhere to Covid-19 regulatory protocols that disallows the crowding in large numbers.  But reaffirmed that, “However, the company will continue with its philanthropic effort to ensure the surviving spouses and dependents are taken care of especially in these trying times. We are very grateful to our partner organisations who have developed an attachment to these families and wish to continue with this gesture to feel free to join us once again this year beyond for this worthy cause.”

Today reminds us all, that just as with the Kamandama Disaster, the survivors of mineworkers interred alive at the mines have been sentenced to perpetual suffering and penury. The families also continue to suffer from the psychological trauma of failing to accord their loved ones a decent burial.

So far, the HCCL has made notable improvements since the Kamandama Mine disaster. These include stone dust application, the use of underground flame-proof equipment, establishment of mine rescue teams to assist in times of disaster and the construction of refuge chambers.

However, there’s need for improved emergency preparedness, enhanced ventilation, training and supervision of underground welding activities and banning of potentially combustible or contraband materials within the facilities.

It is high time HCCL delivered on its promises to provide better livelihood support to the widows of Kamandama tragedy; it is time to humanise these families by housing them in decent homes while providing them with medical assistance.

Parliament of Zimbabwe should defend the rights and dignity of the Kamandama widows and guarantee they are properly compensated

Some widows and survivors of the Kamandama Mine disaster

Parliament of Zimbabwe should, among other things formulate extractive investment laws that will protect Zimbabwean miners, the environment and their families.

Natural resources like minerals should not be a curse for the people of Zimbabwe, they should instead provide greater benefits, lead to positive socio-economic development among citizens, host communities and indeed the entire country.

For a while now, there’s been rapid transformation within and around the facility. In 2018, President Mnangagwa signed several investment agreements with China.  Hwange Units 7 & 8 Thermal Power Station expansion is expected to add 600 MW to the national grid is one of the mega projects.

This year marks the 49th year since the mining carnage occurred, throwing the mining town of Hwange into mourning.

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