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We survived on tree roots for 4 days underground

When German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche said what does not kill us makes us stronger, he must have foreseen the real life tragedy drama of 15 Penhalonga artisanal gold miners who miraculously escaped from a collapsed mineshaft.

A total of 15 artisanal miners, registered under Metallon Gold’s Redwing Mine operating in the Tsapauta area of Penhalonga, were trapped in a collapsed mineshaft last week on Thursday, and only emerged from the ground on Sunday.

After spending four days underground, without any clue of whether they would ever see the light of the day again, while surviving on tree roots and at one point covered waist-high in water amid fierce howling gales, the 15 remain eager to get back to work.

The first to emerge from the shaft on Sunday afternoon, who was the team leader given his experience in the field, 33-year-old Goodson Madimutsa said:

“Most of us, if not all, are still looking forward to going back to work. This was an accident and luckily because of God’s will, we survived. We will go back to gold mining and fend for our families.”

While some of the survivors are locals, others trace their roots to Gokwe, Macheke and Concession.

Under normal circumstances, the artisanal miners go deep down for their work and come out to have food.

This means they do not carry any edible items when they go down the shafts.

Madimutsa, who once worked for Metallon Gold’s Arcturus Mine from 2010 to 2016 said: “Actually, I had paid for my US$1 meal and I was expecting to have it when I returned from work underground. We had no foodstuffs with us when the incident happened.

“When we got trapped underground, we survived on tree roots, and in most cases I was the one who would taste whether the root was edible or not and then share with my colleagues.”

Life underground was not a bed of roses for the four days that the 15 artisanal miners remained trapped. It came with a fair share of trials and tribulations, some that were of their own making.

When they went underground, they only had one phone whose power was on seven percent.

According to Madimutsa, even though they could not tell the actual time, they would know it was evening when they started feeling sleepy.

They had misunderstandings and would sometimes find themselves quarrelling over how to manoeuvre.

Said Madimutsa: “We sometimes quarrelled over which route to take on our mission to escape from the shaft. We had disagreements on a number of times, even on how to remove debris blocking our passage. We also had arguments on working duties.

“Some of my colleagues were too lazy to work. We only had one crow bar that we had found underground so we would take turns to remove rubbles and stones, but some were not forthcoming.

“At the end of the day, we would remind each other that our mission was to escape from the mine, so we remained focused on the job at hand and proceeded.”

Among them were smokers who almost went on forced rehabilitation. The power of craving for some smoke caught up with some among the 15. This resulted in them removing foil from cigarette boxes and burning it to quench the craving for some smoke.

The great escape

The arduous journey out of the collapsed shaft was no child’s play.

The Manica Post understands that the 15 artisanal miners were not from the same team.

The miners came from three separate groups that only converged after the shaft collapsed.

Madimutsa said: “When we went down, I only had three colleagues from my group, but when we heard a scary sound and the subsequent falling of the debris that blocked our way out, we suddenly saw two other groups coming our way, bringing the number to 15.

“We then agreed that we were all in trouble and had to unite to find a way out. We started using our own hands to remove soil and stones blocking our way out.

“We felt extreme pain on our hands, but we had no choice. It was a do or die situation. Later, we stumbled upon a crow bar. We would take turns to use it.

“We were lucky that when the debris and stones fell down as the shaft collapsed, they created some cracks that we followed on our way out.

“We also used our knowledge of the soil type to know which level we were in as we clawed our way out. At one point on Thursday morning, we were covered in water up to waist level and strong winds came.

“We were in real danger at that point, but the water sunk fast and the strong winds stopped. I have never come across such strong winds in my life, but surprisingly the water and the winds disappeared like morning dew.”

Madimutsa said as they scrapped their way out, they were praying that the mining company would not bring machinery to try and excavate in search of them because doing so would have resulted in a total collapse of the shaft and spell doom for them.

And then, Madimutsa emerged from underground.

Moments later, a colleague also emerged, then another, then another.

The ropes that were used by the rescue team to pull out the remaining 11 came in handy, and Madimutsa said: “We really thank the efforts made by Government and the mining companies to get us out, and we also thank God for allowing us to escape death.”

Divine intervention

Up to this day, the gang leader believes God spared their lives.

One thing that he remembers well were the prayer sessions that they conducted as they fought for dear life.

He said: “We had time to pray. Yes, among us we had people who are given to alcohol and smoking, but when we were in this predicament, we all had time to pray for our lives.

“I can safely say our escape was a result of God’s intervention. Without the Heavens, we would have died easily. This is why I always wondered how come each time we went to sleep I would be hungry, but the time we woke up I would feel the strength and power to go on.”

After all, none of them got injured or sick!

Madimutsa said: “When we came out, we were all fit and fine. Yes, we were hungry, but none of us was injured or sick. Even when we were taken to hospital for some medical checks, we all knew that this was just a procedure that had to be done, but we were all fine and only needed some fine porridge and later on some solid food.” Manica Post

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