Family of Abimbo gold mine victim under pressure to bury a banana stem and forget about Tom Okwach

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“I cannot imagine burying a banana stem and participating in a funeral ritual when I know where my brother lies,” these were the words of Steve Aliwa.

Aliwa is the brother to Tom Okwach, the miner who was buried in a quarry at Abimbo Gold Mines, in Bondo, Siaya County.

When Lake Region Bulletin visited the site on April 21, Aliwa was in the company of five other men at the quarry.

These are the only people still holding some shreds of hope that they will be able to retrieve the body of the miner.

109 days inside the quarry

“Today is 109 days since my brother was buried here. Life seems to have gone back to normal for people who were assisting us in trying to retrieve the body. We are just left here as the family and a few friends,” said Aliwa.

According to Aliwa, both the government and other organizations which had responded to help retrieve the body of Okwach have since disappeared.

Some close relatives have suggested that the family conducts burial rites for Okwach by burying a banana stem.

And Aliwa says the calls to bury the banana stem has been increasing, with many people having lost hope of ever retrieving the body.

“They claim that there are no more hopes, but I fear participating in any burial rites because it will haunt me forever,” he says.

Depleted resources

The family has literally been reduced to shells.

They have sold seven bulls and four goats to raise money to help with the retrieval process.

They likely to sell more, if not any valuable household goods.

They are also at the brink of losing their farm after the family borrowed some money from a well-wisher who was given a piece of land as a guarantee, and would be returned when the loan is refunded in full.

Aliwa says there is no hope of refunding the money, as the family is still between a rock and a hard place.

“For the 109 days, I have never gone to work. I have exhausted my savings and I have to depend on friends for survival,” he said.

Steve Aliwa, brother to miner Tom Okwach who is still stuck at Abimbo Gold Mines. (Photo: Kevine Omollo, LRB)

County Government pledge

Siaya County Government had promised to give to advance Sh6 million to help with the retrieval process and cushion the family.

The money is yet to arrive.

“The County Government is looking for some money from the National Disaster Committee because what we have is insufficient,” said Joseph Omondi, Chief Officer Finance and Administration.

When we visited the gold mines, everyone was back to their work.

Moses Odhiambo was one of the five youths who are still trying to dig deeper into the quarry in search of Okwach’s body.

“We have our families to care for, so we get to the mines to work and get something to sustain us, and some days we come here to go on with the retrieval process,” said Odhiambo.

He adds: “How would it feel to assume that life can go on normally when Okwach is lying here. We have to get him and give him a decent send off.”

With the rains coming, they want to move with speed and have Okwach out of the over 50 feet quarry, and lay him in a six feet grave.

Okwach’s mother and wife who have been keeping vigil at the quarry are on a one-week break to rest after exhaustion from staying awake at the site for so many days and nights.

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