The Department of Civil Protection has retrieved bodies of six men who died after being trapped in a tunnel of a disused Matapa gold mine in Bubi district of Matabeleland North Province.

Another person had died a week earlier at the mine where more than 300 men are reported to have swarmed for the past month in search for of the precious mineral.

Five of the people died in the disused mine while the sixth died at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo. The bodies were taken to Inyathi hospital mortuary and the next of kin have been told to take them for burial.

The Chairperson of the Department of Civil Protection in Bubi District, Mr Patson Mlilo said local mining companies provided a team of rescuers and also assisted in covering the pit at Matapa mine but appealed to locals to desist from practicing illegal mining at Matapa as the risk is high that they may get trapped.

“Some places are very dangerous and any serious work there requires qualified engineers because illegal mining could result in panners sinking 500 metres below the surface, so we encourage people to engage in legal mining and those who want to mine can do so through proper channels,” he explained.

Although the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) provided security when officials from the Department of Civil Protection were being threatened by the illegal miners, there were also allegations that some senior police officers were involved in gold panning before the collapse of the mine. 

The Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Obert Mpofu said he will instruct the relevant authorities to carry out investigations and then deal with the matter.

“If it is true that they were involved, it is not going to be condoned by the authorities. Their role is to ensure that whatever is undertaken or done by institutions or private companies is legal. They are doing the policing of activities that are taking place in those areas and elsewhere but if they become part of the problem that is unacceptable. We are not going to allow that, I will relate this story to the Commissioner General to ensure that unprofessional and unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated,” said Minister Mpofu.

Illegal gold mining activities are common in Bubi while the alleged involvement of police officers is also not anything new in the district, where 13 officers were convicted under the Police Act last year.