THE bodies of 22 Zimbabwean illegal miners gassed to death in a South African disused mine were repatriated on Friday.
Thirteen of those returned home were from Nkayi, five from Gokwe South, two from Tsholotsho, one from Kwekwe while one woman was from Kezi.
It is believed that at least 23 Zimbabweans died at the abandoned mine near Johannesburg alongside several other foreigners a fortnight ago.
Zimbabwe’s consul-general in Johannesburg George Magwenzi said the government had mobilised funds to repatriate the bodies.
It is believed that the illegal miners died after inhaling poisonous gases.
Rescue efforts to retrieve more bodies believed to be still underground were hampered by poor access to the tunnel.
Herbert Ndlovu, who survived the incident by not going to the mine on the fateful day said: “Our colleagues were missing for three days when we decided to look for their bodies.
“I am not aware of the gas that killed them but they looked swollen and their skin was peeling off as we carried them.”
He said at least 100 illegal miners used to enter the disused mine daily, going more than 30km in the shafts seeking gold.
Bulawayo East MP Thabitha Khumalo lamented the loss of life and said the government should create jobs for the unemployed.
“I am waiting for the bodies of our sons and daughter who died while trying to eke out a living in South Africa. As a mother, it pains me to see youths dying in such a manner and I hope their death is an eye opener for us to secure jobs for our people.”
Magwenzi said most of the dead were illegal immigrants in South Africa and the consulate had worked to secure documents for the bodies to be ferried back home.
“It was evident that most people at the funeral wake did not have proper travel documents and we urged them to visit our offices for assistance. We also highlighted the dangers associated with illegal gold mining at abandoned mine shafts,” he said.
He warned Zimbabweans against using middlemen to help them cross illegally into South Africa.
“There are people known as omalayitsha who are paid between R2,000 and R4,000 so that people sneak into South Africa through illegal crossing points and this is exposing many people to danger,” he added.
An estimated three million Zimbabweans have sought refuge in South Africa in the last decade, escaping from the country’s worsening economic problems.
Most of the economic refugees are in South Africa illegally and constant deportations have failed to bring the numbers down.
The majority of the immigrants resort to informal jobs because of lack of proper documents in South Africa, the region’s economic powerhouse.