AT least 178 workers narrowly escaped death at Mimosa Platinum Mine in Zvishavane after being trapped 100 metres underground for nearly 24 hours after a fire broke out in a shaft.
The workers' ordeal started when a conveyer belt collapsed and caught fire at around 5pm on Monday and ended around 2pm yesterday when the last trapped worker was rescued.
No one was injured in the accident but the rescued workers looked distraught when they emerged from the mining shaft in small groups.
The workers used safe breathing apparatus while underground and had to be attended to on the spot by a resident doctor after being rescued before they were released to go home.
The workers were cut off after smoke contaminated the air above them, virtually closing their way out.
Mimosa officials had to ask for help from Unki and Zimasco Mines to evacuate the workers.
Mimosa Mining Company (Pvt) Limited confirmed the outbreak of the fire that damaged conveyor belt structures.
"This was happened when the conveyor belt in the main decline ignited," officials said in a statement.
"Mimosa wishes to advise that all employees have now been safely evacuated from the mine. No injuries have been reported."
The Mimosa officials said they were yet to ascertain the extent of the damage and its impact on production.
Labour and Social Services Minister Paurina Mpariwa said Government has since started investigating the accident.
"Our officers are on the ground to investigate whether it is negligence on the part of the company or it's a genuine accident," she said.
Minister Mpariwa said despite the incident, mining accidents have been on the decline in the last few months, a sign that companies were adhering to safety measures.
Rescue teams could be seen running around at the mine yesterday afternoon while ambulances were taking some of the workers who had just been rescued to the mine clinic.
The mine's resident director, Mr Peter Chimboza, said the fire started on Monday evening.
"There were no incidents during the rescue operation," he said.
"All the employees who were trapped underground owing to low visibility which had been caused by smoke were checked by our doctor and were discharged.
"We have a mine rescue team association, so when we had the emergency with many employees underground, we had to call Unki Mine and Zimasco rescue teams from Shurugwi to come and assist us in evacuating the trapped employees."
Mr Chimboza said the mine has temporarily halted operations at the affected section while assessing the damage.
One of the employees interviewed after being discharged from the mine clinic said he had a difficult experience underground.
"I am feeling very well but I had a difficult time because there were no ablution facilities where we were trapped," he said.
"We were being chocked by the smoke, but we were communicating with each other underground. I do not remember anyone who suffered immediate complications."
A medical doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity said the smoke from the fire could result in long term effects to the employees.
"The smoke which they were inhaling could have mixed with some gases that are found underground," he said.
Mimosa Mine is jointly owned by the Mauritius-registered Aquarius and South Africa's Impala Platinum known as Implats.
Zimbabwe is the second largest producer of platinum after South Africa.