In November, seven miners had been feared ‘dead’ after a mine collapsed over them in Ngaru cell, Nyarusange sector, in Muhanga district.
It’s only by sheer luck that four of the miners, Jean Damascene Mivumbi, François Twagirimana, Venant Ngirumpatse, and Joseph Uwizeyimana managed to escape as the pile of ground caved in.
Three other miners, Viateur Twagirimana, Jean Manirora, and Fidele Ndayambaje were trapped as the wall they were digging, caved in on one side, separating the team into two.
One of the initial four survivors, Joseph Uwizeyimana, says that he alerted his colleagues after sensing signs of crumbling.
“I began to suspect the collapse when I saw part of the wall peeling off and small debris dropping on our heads,” he recalls.
“I alerted the group but some of them were far away to pay attention.”
The four miners who escaped heeded Uwizeyimana’s warning.
However, whether out of fear or trauma they spent hours in the nearby bushes pondering their next move. They later returned to the scene of the accident to find out about their friends. They tried to rescue their colleagues by digging through the pile of soil, in vain.
At this time they were compelled to alert residents for more help, before informing the local leaders of the incident.
But there was a rumour spreading that all had died in the mine.
“The three trapped miners were covered by pile of soil and we were not sure whether they were dead or alive at that moment, but tried ways of rescuing them before calling for help,” says François Twagirimana-one of the initial survivors.
Under the conditions of work, it was not expected for this team to survive given that illegal mining and use of rudimental and unprotected means of mining is one of the rampant problems facing the industry in the area.
It is unbelievable that the incident happened early morning at 11am that day and the victims managed to be rescued the next day after tedious work carried out by local rescue teams.
Local leaders were informed of the incident at 5 pm (on day 1) and immediate rescue teams, of over 300 residents, were organized to dig out the three men trapped inside.
The rescue teams used hoes and spades to literally create a path into the collapsed earth surface. This took more that 10 hours of work and residents never gave up until the whole group was rescued on day 2 at about 2.30pm.
The inside story
While inside the collapsed mine, the three trapped victims say they recounted their fate, hunger, and wondered how one would die ‘without saying goodbye’ to their families.
In the group was, Fidele Ndayambaje, one of the senior and most experienced miners. He was simply the team’s spirit. He used his experience to determine their fate.
“As others were lamenting, I looked for signs of life in the trap. I saw a butterfly soaring in the mine, and I told my colleagues that there was a way out- and we have to find how this butterfly has entered,” Ndayambaje told The New Times.
Under such fatal circumstances one would wonder how they survived without food and water. This was not a need for the group that spent several hours beneath the earth.
“It was a matter of life and death and only one thing was important- the hope of being rescued,” Ndayambaje adds.
Ngaru Cell leader, Cecile Musabyimana, says that these accidents have been happening in the past and are mostly caused by heavy rains, and lack of proper mining equipment to guarantee the security of miners.
Most of the illegal mining activities are in the Northern part of Muhanga District but local leaders have intensified efforts to curtail such illegal activities.
Police say that most residents are involved in illegal mining activities during the evening hours and most of the minerals are trafficked to Kigali.
Some illegal miners have been arrested and the employing companies halted from continuing their activities.
Some of the companies include: Gatumba Mining Company- which deals in coltan and operates in Mushishiro, Gatumba and Rugendabari.
At least 82kgs of coltan was confiscated from its employees last month and the local officials advised the employees to desist from illegal activities.
So far 100 miners have been arrested and the employing company asked to seek proper equipment for its miners.
Mushishiro Executive Secretary, Sixte Mungarakarama, says illegal mining activities are to blame for recent accidents.
“Most of the miners face problems of lack of proper equipment, protection and life insurance. They are at very high risk and unless such activities are monitored, it can lead to loss of lives,” Mungarakarama says.
The turning point is that most of the miners risk their lives under such poor conditions and earn only Rwf 5000 per Kilogram while the mining company sells the same amount at Rwf5 0,000.
John Semunani, is one of the illegal miners, who was arrested and educated in order to stop the activity. He says that the job was not paying off and was compelled to indulge in illegal mining so as to earn a living.
“The minerals sell big and we are forced to get involved in such activities, however the companies earn more than the miners and this forces most people to get involved in the risky business,” Semunani says.