five buried alive

Canaan Mdletshe

Canaan Mdletshe

Residents of Minyamanzi in Nongoma, northern Zululand, have described the horrible death of five women on Monday afternoon as "a dark cloud" fallen over the area.

The women, aged between 23 and 27, were gathering coal from an abandoned mine when it collapsed, burying them alive.

The Msimang sisters Halala, Thoko, Mabuyi, Bathiyephi and neighbour Jabu Ndwandwe died instantly when the mine walls collapsed on them.

Only one person, Nozipho Nhlebela, survived, though she is also fighting for her life in hospital. Locals mine coal illegally from the abandoned mine and sell it to help feed their families.

A distraught Vusi Mabika, the local mayor, expressed shock.

He described the deaths as terrible and the worst he had ever witnessed in ages.

"It was the first time seeing such a thing in my life. These people died a terrible death.

"One can only imagine the pain they went through as the walls fell and covered them.

"They were trapped there for hours and the last body was discovered at midnight," said Mabika.

Mabika said the worst part was that the four Msimang sisters completed matric last year.

"It's a disaster. I would like to appeal to our provincial government to assist us and the families in dealing with this.

"Right now, I can tell you that Jabu Ndwande's death has left the houses locked as she left young children who are now orphans," he said.

Mabika said what was worrying them was that the tragedy had brought the number of deaths at the mine so far to 11.

He said many people had died while trying to dig coal at the mine. "We have warned locals many times before, but it seems our warnings fell on deaf ears. But at the same time it is understandable as people are hungry because of unemployment.

"We will once again re-fence the mine and put warning signs around it. But I know that after a few weeks, people will go back there and dig because that's their only source of a livelihood," said Mabika.

In September 2006, four people died at the same mine.

Ndodayithengwa Zulu, Nomusa Zulu, Ngenzeni Zulu and a 13-year-old girl, Thuli Zulu, also died when the shaft collapsed, killing them instantly.