Zambia’s mine accidents: The Sensele tragedy
Published On December 12, 2023 » 2276 Views» By Times Reporter » Features
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•RESCUE teams at Sensele Mine accident site. Picture courtesy DMMU

By JOWIT SALUSEKI in Chingola –
ZAMBIA has in the past experienced fatal mine accidents which have left the country convulsing in grief and sorrow.
Copperbelt Province accounts for the major accidents that have occurred in the mining sector.
While some of the victims of mine accidents would escape with injuries, fatalities would also occur.
Some of the mine accidents which have previously occurred have been attributed to a compromise of the safety of the miners, especially at illegally owned mines.
Other accidents have been due to natural calamities that are beyond human control.
On September 25, 1970 for instance, an underground breach of the tailing dam occurred at Mufulira Copper Mines, claiming several lives.
In the wee hours of that fateful day, about two million tonnes of water and slime cascaded into the main working area of the Mufulira mines.
The mixture choked the mine’s main and intermediate haulages, and put out of action three incline shafts, an ancillary crusher, and the pumping stations.
At least 89 miners were killed in the mine accident, making it the worst fatal mine accidents to occur in Zambia.
Then about 35 years later, the mining sector and nation at large was again in mourning following an accident at Chambishi Mine in April 2005.
A blast at the Chinese-owned Beijing General Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (BGRIMM) Explosives Plant, on the premises of Chambishi Copper Mine, killed about 51 people.
An so far this year, according to authorities in the mining sector, 16 mine accidents have occurred at various mines.
The latest and most tragic is the Sensele Mine accident, which occurred on the night of November 30,2023, sending shock waves across the nation.
On December 1, the country woke up to news of the tragedy at Sensele Mine, which is located on the western end of Chingola.
In this latest accident, over 30 miners were trapped in three locations after heavy rains had flooded the mining area.
By Press time yesterday, 12 miners had so far been retrieved, with only one rescued alive.
President Hakainde Hichilema yesterday joined thousands of mourners at Chingola Central Cemetery during the mass burial of nine miners who were retrieved from the collapsed tunnels at the Sensele Mine slag dump.
The nine retrieved bodies, placed in white caskets, were carried in nine different police vehicles procured under the Constituency Development Fund.
The funeral procession arrived at the cemetery at around 12:30.
The nine mine accident victims interred yesterday were Paul Mbuyisa (30), Christopher Chungu (40), Emmanuel Kaunda (31),Jordan Mbewe (33), Innocent Mwape (25),Derrick Kaunda (37),Victor Simfukwe (26), Musonda Mwaba (31), and Dalitso Sakala (31).
In his short homily Pastor Kasepa said: “Let us not be judgemental during this period of difficulty and mourning as judgementbelongs to God alone,”
This was the second time President Hichilema was making a trip to Chingola to commiserate with the affected families since the mine accident happened.
Apart from physically visiting the mine accident scene, the President has been in constant touch with the provincial administration on the Copperbelt, who give him daily updates.
Copperbelt Minister Elisha Matambo said he updates the President four times a day on the rescue mission at Sensele.
President Hichilema said he stood with the bereaved families and the nation at large in this difficult time.
He gave a special recognition to the clergy who stood with the country in this period of mourning.
“Let me also recognise those who work tirelessly in feeding their families and those who have lost their friends,” Mr Hichilema said, as he offered his condolences to all family members and the country at large.
“Death is always something that is mysterious and no one understands when and how each one of us will go,” he said.
Among the Cabinet ministers who were present during the burial were Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane, Community Development and Social Services Minister Doreen Mwamba, and Commerce, Trade and Industry’s Chipoka Mulenga with Paul Kabuswe, his counterpart at Mines.
Others present at the burial site were Mr Matambo, several parliamentarians, district commissioners, mayors, council chairpersons, councillors and other senior Government officials, including UPND members.
For a short spell, the burial site became tense when a group of small-scale miners, commonly known as jerabos, were also accorded a chance by the President to lay wreaths on the graves.
The clergy and ordinary members of the public, too, turned out to bid farewell to the nine mine accident victims.
Meanwhile, daily press briefings updating the nation on the search for miners that are still missing in the wake of the accident have continued.
The briefings are being chaired by provincial minister Mr Matambo, who is normally flanked by Mines minister Mr Kabuswe and Commerce, Trade and Industry minister Mr Mulenga.
In a bid to lessen the burden on the bereaved families,the President pledged another K10,000 to each one of them.
“The President personally tasked me to give his token of condolences to families of the trapped miners,”said Mr Mulenga, who is also Chingola Member of Parliament, the constituency in which the mining accident happened.
“When he visited last week, he donated K10,000 to each family, and he will provide the same amount which I will personally deliver to the families.”
Mr Mulenga said he will, starting from this Wednesday, be going door-to-door to deliver foodstuffs and financial support to the bereaved families.
Charity Chongo, mother to 22-year-old miner Charles Mungo’nge, whose body was found decomposed, and who was buried on Thursday last week, expressed thankfulness for the overwhelming support rendered by the government.
“The support has lessened our burden,” she said.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Christopher Kadimanga, whose brother Sylvester was among the mine accident victims and was buried on Saturday last week.
“We really thank the President and his government for being there for us during this difficult time. I personally was supposed to join my late brother at the pit but maybe God didn’t want me to die as I was arrested by police officers for some case, and thereby spent a night in the cells,” he narrated.
He said he is not sure if he will ever return to the pit again because security in the tunnels was compromised.
“But one thing that I can tell you is that production has been affected because most of these Chinese people who deal in copper ore depend on the output from Senseli and since there is no mining activity going on, they’re feeling the pinch,” Mr Kadimanga said.
Some of the miners are believed to have come from outside Chingola.
The Copperbelt minister cautioned those with intentions to make false claims that they too had a missing relative at Sensele in order to get financial support from Government to desist from such acts.
“We have noted that some people are flocking to the District Commissioner’s office pretending that they too have a missing miner at Sensele Mine in order to benefit from the government’s well intended programme. Those with such intentions should stop such behaviours,” Mr Matambo warned.
Meanwhile, about 11 days after the Sensele Mine accident, grief and sorrow has continued to grip various townships in Chingola, where over 30 miners were trapped last week.
A check by this writer in various townships yesterday found residents still reeling from anguish and sorrow as they continued recounting the mine accident.
Apart from sorrow and grief, relatives, friends and members of the public are highlighting the impact on the social and economic wellbeing of the township in the aftermath of the mine accident.
Albert Kalenga, a habitual miner at the slag dump, explained that he did his day shift and knocked off before the accident later in the night of November 30,2023.
“Chilenkalipasaana [It hurts me immensely] to lose friends in the accident,I don’t think I will go back to the pit because it is very dangerous to mine there”
Kalenga said.
His words were echoed by Barnabas Mumba, who said that there was need to ensure that all illegal mining operations on the Copperbelt conformed to safety regulations.
“Most these miners operating at these slag dumps go underground with no personal protective equipment. They only carry basic tools such as a pick, hammer, shovel, a torch and a hoe. In addition, others also use improvised explosives,” he said.
Rescue efforts by a combined team of defence forces, disaster management and mitigation unit, the Red Cross and Konkola Copper Mines have continued.
Miners at Sensele Mine were trapped in three locations after heavy rains had flooded the area on the night of November 30,2023.

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