In a nation with sky high unemployment, the promise of found gold, diamonds, and other precious gems scraped out of underground pits makes the reward seem worth the risk.
But this week, dozens of miners in Zimbabwe lost the gamble when two mine shafts west of Harare were flooded by rains. Rescuers retrieved the bodies of 24 miners and many more are feared dead.
“So far we have managed to bring out eight miners alive and we are yet to assess and find any more people down there who are still alive,” Tapererwa Paswavaviri, the government’s deputy chief mining engineer told reporters on Saturday at the scene of the accident.
The government said on Friday that between 60 and 70 “artisanal” or subsistence miners were in the two shafts when they were flooded after a dam burst its walls following heavy rains on Tuesday.
The accident shines a light on the dangers facing artisanal gold miners.
The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), a mining watchdog, blamed Zimbabwe’s environmental management agency for failing to protect lives by properly decommissioning disused mines. The NGO said the mine should have been sealed to avoid tragedies of this nature.
Trapped miners have no funeral cover and relatives are pleading for government assistance. “I don’t have a funeral policy, burying my child will be very difficult,” said Idah Gwangwari, 60, who lost her son Donald, 20.
Meanwhile, in Liberia, the bodies of five people were recovered from a collapsed pit in the Kartee gold mines located in Nimba, north-eastern Liberia.
Around 40 people were still believed to be trapped after the walls of the pit caved in a week ago Saturday. Fellow miners using their bare hands tried to remove debris to free their fellow miners.
The government has declared Monday a national day of mourning.
A local paper, FrontPageNews, visited the site of the mine collapse and spoke with Emmanuel Koffee, a father of four who said he “escaped death by the mercy of God but it was his quest for glitter that nearly cost him his life.”
The quest for a better life is a driving force behind their digging for gold, said survivor Nathan Daywoe. Pushing back tears, he lamented that after the death of more than 40 of his peers, the illicit miners were still seen trying to dig for gold before authorities dispatched security personnel to the area.