Harare - Shocked villagers from the Nkayi district in Matabeleland North province, in Zimbabwe, gathered on Sunday to bury 18 young men who died, apparently from poisonous gas, in a long abandoned and collapsed mine shaft in Roodepoort two weeks ago.
Siphiwe Sibanda lost four sons in the tragedy and was overcome with emotion when interviewed by Bulawayo’s Chronicle newspaper.
“I still cannot believe my four sons are dead… I will take this pain to my grave.”
Zimbabweans living in Gauteng risked their lives to bring their dead compatriots to the surface for identification.
Sibanda pointed out the graves of her four sons, Mpilo, 31, Kwanele, 26, Melusi, 25 and Ndumiso Siziba, 21.
Nearby, the Ncube family had also gathered after burying two of their relatives who died at the mine.
Local councillor Malawi Phiri described the deaths as a tragedy.
“This incident is still a shock to me and it hurts to see villagers move from one homestead to another in despair trying to console each other.
“Only a few impoverished families are affected. We had to bury these bodies in the middle of the night, something taboo in our culture, but the bodies were stinking and had become a health hazard to all of us,” he told The Chronicle.
“Grieving parents of the people could not even do body viewing as we were strongly advised against such. May God bless everyone who helped to repatriate the bodies,” he said.
Sarai Mlambo, 19, with a 2-month-old baby on her hip, said her husband Nqobani, 23, had gone to South Africa after getting his A-level results to earn money to further his education.
“He had a passion for agriculture and I do not know what I will do now,” she said.
Others from the area who had been in South Africa said many more bodies were still underground.
Nkulumane Ncube, brother to two of the deceased, said South African officials had said they would seal the mine with all the bodies inside as they could not take risks for illegal miners.
“I had to go down and look for my two relatives who were trapped about 18km underground. The sight was horrific.
“Some of the rescuers fainted at the sight of countless bodies lying in the tunnels.
“I wish there was a way to retrieve all those bodies but we were too weak and traumatised after retrieving our brothers.
“I urge people with relatives in South Africa who are in illegal mining to check if they are alive.”
“Gogo” Rachel Ncube, a traditionalist based in South Africa, performed a traditional ritual for rescuers to be able to enter the mine.
“These boys went into the ground… and did not come back. South African emergency services officials went down and came back without anybody.”