At least than 300 gold panners have been trapped in a 150 metre deep mine shaft at Durban Gold Mine in Bubi District, Matabeleland North, since Monday.

Yesterday the makoroza were involved in a standoff with officials from Duration Gold that owns the mine as they were refusing to come out of the shaft, fearing arrest.The mine owners had brought rescue teams. The illegal panners are said to have invaded the mine last week after allegedly tampering with the local electricity system.

The makorokoza were each paying an unnamed businessman $70 to go down into the shaft using his ladder. Some of the illegal miners said they each paid $500 to security guards to be allowed to extract gold ore for three days.“Trouble started when the police were called and the businessman withdrew his ladder. People have been trapped without food in the shafts since Monday,” said an illegal miner who declined to be named.

“About 130 of an initial group of more than 300 people have come out using the mine’s lift. The others are hiding in the shafts fearing arrest.” More than 50 armed police officers arrived at the mine at around 1pm to deal with the makorokoza.

A group of 13 local makorokoza were engaged to go down into the shaft to convince their counterparts to come out.“Most of them have vowed not to come out. They are saying they would rather die in there than to come out and face arrest,” said an official. Durban Mine acting manager, Mr Onias Shanyurai said police had been engaged to forcibly remove the miners.

“We faced a power outage for over 24 hours last week. The group flooded the mine through illegal points which they had created.” “The rapid and heavy detonation of explosives in the shafts prompted me to engage police,” he said.

Mr Shanyurai said the mine which had shut down in December 2015, was gearing to re-open before the end of the month.“We have always had running battles with makorokoza at the mine but their number is alarming this time around. We got a tip off that there were more than 300 of them and we organised some guys to go down there and advise them to leave before things turned nasty.

“Only 130 of them complied while the rest remained down there. Last week, we are told they would come out of the shaft at night to get food from their bosses and deliver ore that they would have mined,” he said.