WE are ready to be buried in here together with our wives and children, illegal miners at the sinkhole near Mopani Copper Mines’ South Ore Body (SOB) shaft in Kitwe have declared.
Mopani has mined out the entire area beneath the surface that has caved in to create a sinkhole, which illegal miners from Chamboli and Wusakili have invaded to scavenge for copper ore.
Mopani chief technical services officer Jacob Banda recently said the sinkhole was a death trap as the thin pillar between the surface of the sinkhole and the mined out tunnels could easily give in and kill up to 1,000 people at a go.
“We want to prevent fatalities by burying the sinkhole because there is no way of making it safe apart from burying it, which is also the expert advice from both the Mines Safety Department and the Zambia Environmental Management Agency,” Banda said.
Mopani faces a battle to prevent occurrence of multiple fatalities against a community that believes no one has a right to take away their only economic survival.
Mopani is currently seeking State support to bury the site as it fears thousands of lives could be lost but the residents are up in arms and are instead asking the government to make the place safe for them to work.
“No one will remove us from here. We are ready to die here with our wives and children because this is what keeps us and our families going,” said team leader Yona Kapapa, popularly referred to as Commander.
“We have been living like this for a long time, nothing has happened to us, our children go to school from this. There is no one stealing in the compounds and if they want us to start stealing in the compounds, let them go ahead but we will not allow them to remove us from here.”
An on the spot check at the sinkhole revealed that at any given time there are around 1,000 illegal miners at the sinkhole. Thousands of illegal miners have shifted to the sinkhole after exhausting their 10 per cent share of the infamous Black Mountain in Nkana West.
Asked if they did not fear for their lives like Mopani has stated, they responded: “Ponse epo tunyanta paliba imfwa, kuti uleyendelafye we mwine bakupunka wafwa (Wherever we go there is death. You can be moving on your own, and get hit by a car and you die, sometimes people just drop dead.) Lesa fye eutusunga, ififine Lesa atusunga epo twayambila ukubomba umu efyo akulatusunga. Inshita ingayafika kufwa takwaba umuntu uwinga sola imfwa (the same way God has been keeping us safe since we started working here, He will continue keeping us safe. There is no human being who can hide from death. When time to die comes we will all die. So, batulekefye tuleimbolafye fwebene [they should leave us alone,” said Mulenga Chewe, who is also a leader at the site.
As the interviews were going on, a group of women who sell their merchandise to the ‘miners’ joined in and demanded that the government help their children continue mining in the area because it was keeping them alive.
“We do not have husbands. Some of us are widows, some of us married but it is just marriage by name. We come here to sell our goods, food and water to these same people here,” said one of the women.
According to the leaders, Copperbelt minister Japhen Mwakalombe was informed about their mode of operations when he visited the area and he encouraged them to form cooperatives so that their activities can be formalised.
The ‘miners’ disclosed that they sell their ore to Chinese nationals who upon weighing and testing the mineral value of the ore give them an average of between K11,000 and K12,000 per truck load which they share among themselves.
Last year, a dozen illegal miners died when part of the Black Mountain collapsed on them.