FIVE people have been confirmed dead, while eight others are feared to have also perished when a mineshaft which was at the centre of a gun battle pitting a well-known gold baron from Esigodini, Baron Dube, collapsed in Matopo on Monday.
The five met their demise after they were crushed to death by boulders while digging for gold at Deep Stream 7 Mine, which is part of Nugget Mine, about 25km from Bulawayo.
There were reports of a gold war on Sunday night involving Dube and another Matopo gold baron, Madodana Moyo, over the gold-rich claim which left the pair hospitalised at the United Bulawayo Hospital (UBH).
Gunshots were reportedly fired during the scuffle that left the pair nursing axe and stab wounds.
After the war involving rival gangs, a scramble for the pit by illegal miners ensued, with some said to be coming from as far afield as Kwekwe, Zvishavane, Filabusi and Matobo, leading to the collapse of the shaft.
Four people escaped death by whisker — one of them unscathed — while three others are said to be nursing injuries at UBH, where the bodies of the deceased were also conveyed.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the deaths.
“Although I am not privy to the gun battle, I can confirm that there has been a mine accident at Nugget Mine in Matopo, which is a disused mine where five artisanal miners were killed after a shaft they were mining in collapsed. Their bodies were conveyed to UBH. Four escaped with injuries. As I speak, the Matabeleland Civil Protection Unit is at the scene,” said Nyathi.
When Southern Eye arrived at the scene yesterday, the Matabeleland Civil Protection Unit was on the ground, making frantic efforts to locate the eight people suspected to be trapped underground.
Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs minister Abednico Ncube and his entourage, also arrived at the scene during the rescuing operations and ordered the police to seal off the area.
“We know gold panners are looking for money, but that should be done lawfully. I urge you Propol (Officer commanding the province Commissioner Partson Nyabadza) to deploy your team here to ensure that the law is observed. The Environmental Management Agency should also do the same. That way, we would avoid such a disaster,” Ncube said.
A source close to the issue said Nugget Mine was, on Sunday night, a battle ground as gangs fought for the gold-rich claim, with Dube and Moyo leading the pack.
Dube is no stranger to gold wars, which have become rife in the region.
He is currently on $2 000 bail pending trial at the High Court for allegedly shooting and killing a member of a rival mining gang, Antony Bvundura, in October last year in a fight over a mining claim in Esigodini.
In 2016, Dube and another gold baron, Mthulisi Ngwenya, were involved in a seven-hour fight for control of gold claims in the district.
Dube is said to lead a group of panners from Filabusi who operate in Esigodini.
Meanwhile, two other illegal gold panners were crushed to death after a mineshaft they were working on collapsed in Colleen Bawn in Gwanda on Sunday.
Nyathi said their bodies were retrieved and conveyed to Gwanda Distrcit Hospital.
“The incident happaned at Deep Stream 7 Mine in Colleen Bawn on May 4, when two gold panners were digging for gold and the soil above them carved in, and they were crushed to death,” he said.