Hwange fires probe begins

The Chronicle

Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
AN international consultant hired by Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) to investigate the cause of underground fires in the coal mining town is now on the ground as Government moves to come up with remedial action in affected areas.

The consultant, Group DMT is expected to release its findings which will be presented before Government at the end of March.

The site of underground fires in Hwange

Communities living within Hwange Town recently expressed concern after underground fires emerged within the mining town’s disused excavation sites.

The fires are away from homes but have resulted in a road connecting Makwika and Madumabisa villages to the town being closed.

The fires are said to affect an area covering up to 150 metres within the company’s mining area.

HCCL has barricaded some of the areas where the fires are found as part of its efforts to protect communities from exposure.

Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando yesterday toured HCCL to assess the extent of the fires.

His tour was however cut short by rains that started pounding areas where there are infernos but there was no rain in town.

One could feel the change in temperatures and a degree of heat while walking on the abandoned road where the fires are located.

The area is also filled with smoke due to the underground fires.

Addressing the media after the tour, Minister Chitando said Government was concerned about the underground fires and commended the colliery company for being proactive in addressing the problem.

“Of course it’s a matter of concern and I applaud the management of HCCL that prior to the media reporting on that incident (of fire on the road) it had engaged DMT which is an international company which specialises in cases of this nature to come and look at cases of exposures in Hwange Colliery old working area specifically Number 2 where there were reports of fire on the road,” said Minister Chitando.

According to the company’s online profile, DMT is a global engineering services and consultancy group that has 280 years of experience and has more than 30 offices around the world.

He said the consultant is already conducting its work which should be completed within three months.

“The international consultants are here and their mandate is to fully investigate what could have happened. What could have caused simmering that is taking place. They have done similar work in Europe and they have done similar work in the Middle East and of course in Africa.

They are looking at what caused that hole to come up and what is underneath,” he said. “They will look into what has happened and issue a report to the management of the colliery and with Cabinet involvement we will take the necessary remedial action to make sure that whatever problem is there is resolved.

It’s a matter which Government takes seriously hence my visit and it’s a matter which is being followed up.”

He said members of the public should be patient with the consultant as it conducts its work.  Minister Chitando said the colliery company has already started some mitigation measures to address the problem so that communities are not affected.

“Having these international experts shows the extent of the commitment. Let us wait for the report and whatever they will come up with we will take action. They have said they will need until end of March to finish their work because it’s quite detailed work that needs to be done, very specialised work.

Government takes this issue seriously and decisive work will be taken to address the problem once and for all,” said Minister Chitando.

“There are some interventions that are being put in place. The initial indications are that the problem is contained in that particular area and what the company is doing is implementing a huge awareness drive that they are launching, barricading the area to ensure that the public do not get near the area. But there are indications that apart from that there is no danger.”

Although the consultant’s management were on the ground, they could not grant media interviews due to contractual issues with HCCL.

Meanwhile, Minister Chitando commended the colliery for implementing a turnaround strategy which has seen the company being able to pay workers’ salaries on time.

In the past the colliery company was making headlines over employees staging demonstrations, some led by their wives over nonpayment of salaries. He said it was pleasing that HCCL was implementing strategies to get to its former glory.

“Right now workers are being paid stipulated rates and at the same time the production is steady around 250 000 tonnes per month.

But I think more importantly there are plans where HCCL will be ramping up its coking coke at the Three Main and more importantly its plan to go down the value addition chain which it has walked before.

Hwange needs to return to its former glory,” he said. Minister Chitando said operational discipline has contributed to HCCL being viable.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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