Nearly 40 workers employed at a Chinese-controlled mine near Doneni, Muzvezve area in Kadoma who have gone for months without salaries, say they are being treated like slaves by the owners.
The mine, which is a joint venture between Chinese nationals and a Zimbabwean woman only identified as Linda, is, according to National Mine Workers’ Union president Tinashe Mugwira, a disaster waiting to happen.
Workers alleged that they are forced to work in the mine shaft without any protective clothing, exposing them to injuries and other health hazards.
“We work without gloves, shoes or even full body cover. That no serious injury has occurred at this mine is just by God’s grace,” said a worker who refused to be named.
They accused the Chinese investors of verbally and physically abusing them during work and when they ask for their outstanding salaries.
“Working here is the worst experience one has to go through. You are insulted for demanding your wages and at times some workers are kicked by these Chinese people while pushing wheel borrows to the mill,” said another worker.
When The Standard visited the mine last Thursday the place was deserted, with only one Chinese national and a security guard at the premises.
Workers sleep at the mine on beds made of logs and galvanised metal sheets. The mine shafts themselves are built with unstable wooden poles.
The Chinese built themselves a house with a furnace which plays a dual role, to warm the building and smelt the gold.
Mugwira, who was part of the mine tour, said it was the worst mining environment he had seen in his life as the union’s president.
“This place is not fit for human habitation and surely workers cannot be allowed to work in this kind of environment,” he said.
Mugwira was also concerned about the dumping of mining residue at the premises after gold ore is crushed.
“The dump is dangerous; cyanide is clearly being dumped into the environment without due regard for downstream effects. It is clear that a lot of rules are being broken here,” he said.
Workers are reportedly being forced to pull bucket loads of gold ore from underground using wires without protective clothing and move the ore in wheel borrows.
The gold collection tank is unsecured and not locked as required by mining laws, with sources alleging that no clear records were kept at the mine, with most of the gold finding its way to the black market.
Touring the mine was a dangerous task, with naked electrical wires lying dangerously on the ground; there were no safety signs and loose debris was lying all over the place.
The Chinese national could not communicate with Mugwira in English and had to call an unidentified person in Harare.
A woman who identified herself as the mine owner refused to meet the news screw, saying she was in Bulawayo. She also refused to discuss the allegations of abuse over the phone.
“How could you go to my mine without talking to me? You were supposed to see me first before doing what you did, follow proper procedures before you visit my premises,” she said before terminating the call.
Mugwira said many people working for Chinese investors were ill-treated and worked like slaves.
“The gold mine near Doneni in Muzvezve area is being operated by Chinese nationals together with one lady, a Zimbabwean called Linda. As a union, what we saw is pathetic. There is lack of safety at the mine, a total disregard for the workers’ safety and the environment,” he said.
“It is clear health and safety conditions are not being observed at all. workers have no safety clothing and even after working, they are not being paid. I have absolutely no idea why this mine is allowed to operate under such an environment.”
Mugwira added: “We call upon the Ministry of Mines and the Environmental Management Agency to investigate this mine and take appropriate action.”
He said the mine was operating without a mine manager, making it more than just a death trap.
“We have observed as a union that most mines run by these Chinese investors do not even care about safety of the workers,” Mugwira added.
“I have also been to another Chinese-run mine called Rongxine mine.
“Employees work more than 12 hours a day and there is no overtime. They are beaten up and treated like slaves. We demand an end to this.”