Johannesburg – An eight-hour operation solely led by the zama zamas ended at around 9.45pm on Tuesday evening after both bodies of the deceased miners trapped since last week were retrieved and brought to the surface.
Clad in overalls, boots and headlamps, the men descended into the mine through an unknown entrance at around 2.30pm on Tuesday afternoon.It was a long and difficult retrieval. Authorities and emergency services were not present during the ordeal. Media were asked to use their car lights and camera lights to help light the way as the group of 25 volunteers surfaced from the main entrance of the disused mine at George Harrison Park in Langlaagte.
Food, drinks, cigarettes and torches were continuously sent down to the men, who were working tirelessly to bring up the bodies of fellow zama zamas Sibangani Tsikwa and Njabulo Sibanda who died in the mine.
Both were Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa.
At around 9pm, the bobbing of head lamps could be seen down a steep hole as the men made their way up the tunnel, the two bodies each in a makeshift sack made by the zama zamas and volunteers.
Tears and sobs echoed throughout the evening air as the bodies were laid down on the ground. Family members sat close by in morbid disbelief, now knowing the fate of their loved ones.
Johannesburg Emergency Services and Mine Rescue Workers called off the search during the early hours of Tuesday morning because it was too dangerous to continue searching and they were unable to locate the bodies.
Sangomas covered the bodies and performed a prayer ritual of thanks as the crowd looked on.
The chairman of the Zimbabwe Community in SA, Ngqabutho Mabhena, thanked all the volunteers and those involved in the search and retrieval, but voiced is disappointment in local authorities. “We are disappointed in the local authorities for abandoning the search for the bodies of the men who were still underground.”
He also criticised Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane, calling his actions and that of the department “arrogant”.
He also criticised the Zimbabwean government for not helping or “showing concern” for the trapped miners.
An emotional Daroh Tsikwa, brother of deceased miner Sibangani, thanked all those involved, adding that he was grateful they could now bury his brother.
Mabhena added that any further searches had been called off, as all were believed to be accounted for.
As the night came to a close, families sat solemnly waiting for morgue vans to arrive to transport their loved ones while the volunteers and zama zamas warmed themselves by the fire.