The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THREE children from Colleen Bawn in Gwanda District are recovering at Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo from severe leg burns sustained after they jumped into hot residue deposited by a mine not far off the Gwanda-Beitbridge highway.
The residue is suspected to be from clinker, a fine ash-like product used in the manufacturing of cement by Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC) at their Colleen Bawn Plant, and is usually disposed of after it has been cooled down by water. It is unclear, however, how the hot residue found its way into an open area exposed to the public.
They were first admitted to Gwanda Provincial Hospital from where they were transferred to Mater Dei Hospital.
Head of Operations and Projects for PPC Zimbabwe Dr Marvellas Sibanda confirmed the incident.
“PPC Zimbabwe Limited regrets to advise of the injury of three non-employees at Colleen Bawn. The incident occurred at around 1700hrs on Friday 13 January 2023. The company operates an industrial dumpsite on the western side of the Colleen Bawn Plant. Preliminary investigations indicate that two of the injured persons, accidentally jumped into the dumpsite thereby sustaining burns from some of the materials in the dumpsite which were still hot.
The third injured person sustained burns on the arms whilst trying to assist the other two injured persons. The injured persons are aged 11, 12, and 14,” he said.
The children were looking for calves that had strayed across the road from Colleen Bawn Mine where they stay when tragedy struck. Ms Sikhanyisiwe Sibanda whose son (11) was burnt on both arms and legs said her son was in agony and may take a long time to heal.
“My son returned home from school and he left to look for our calves with his friends, which they always do. There is a place where residue from the manufacturing of cement is dumped by the company and is usually placed in pits where rocks are extracted but for some reason, this one was out in the open, not in the usual place where it is dumped. They say they crossed the highway into a footpath and jumped into a mound of residue where they began to sink and got burnt from the knees going down. My son sustained burns on his hands.”
One of the older boys who is 14 years old and is doing Grade Five at Colleen Bawn Primary School tried to assist his friends as they were sinking in the hot material before they jumped into a water body that is near the site. She said the sight of the boys was horrific when she arrived at the scene.
“They were white all over and their skin was peeling off from their bodies. It was horrible, even those that initially tried to carry them to safety failed as the top skin layer was falling off from their bodies,” she added.
She said they got little help at Gwanda Provincial Hospital.
“I did not have any money on me to buy a list of things that we were given. I spent the night with my son agonizing in pain as he could not be attended to. I only managed to purchase the supplies the following day.
“I spent the night removing pieces of flesh that were falling off from my son’s legs as there was no bandage to hold them together. I would just throw them into the bin, it was so scary for me. The next day we bought the bandages and the doctors were cutting off flesh and skin from his legs as they dressed the wounds,” she said.
However, a team from PPC visited the children and then facilitated their transfer to Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo owing to the extent of their injuries. The parents of the children concurred that the residue from the manufacturing plant should be disposed of in a safe manner.
“That material needs to be put far from where people and animals frequent, they must secure that place the same way we see them securing electricity plants. They need to put signage too so that people stay away from it because the children innocently went there thinking it was just sand,” she said.
Another parent also said the person who dumped the material near the road must be accountable as to why they disposed of it in an undesignated place. They, however, said they were grateful for the medical support that has been rendered to the children together with their parents who are able to visit them daily at the hospital.
Dr Sibanda said the company has assisted with all medical support required with the doctors attending to the injured boys saying they were in a stable condition.
“The company has been in touch with the families of the injured persons and is providing all the necessary support. This incident has been reported to the Regulatory Authorities. In compliance with the company’s protocols, investigations into the incident have been instigated. PPC Zimbabwe regrets this incident and wishes the injured boys a quick recovery,” said Dr Sibanda. – @NyembeziMu