Horror as DRC gold mine caves in

Crispin Kyala – Informal gold miners in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo scoured rubble at the weekend for more than 50 colleagues presumed dead after a mine collapsed under the weight of heavy rain.

Hundreds of young men in rubber boots crowded around the site of Friday’s cave-in, with some removing rocks by hand from the muddy hillside, video footage showed.

Dozens of people die each year in accidents in largely unregulated artisanal mines in Congo, where often ill-equipped diggers borrow deep underground in search for ore.

Alexandre Kamundala, deputy mayor of the nearby town of Kamituga, said no bodies had been recovered so far.

“The rescue teams have been working hard since this morning to try to find bodies, but given the lack of working tools, they are finding it difficult to move forward efficiently with the search.”

Protective equipment

Cave-ins, landslides, and asphyxia are common risks faced by artisanal miners, who rarely have any protective equipment beyond rubber boots, according to Sara Geenen, an assistant professor at the University of Antwerp in Belgium who has conducted research at artisanal gold mines around Kamituga.

“Being an old mining town, Kamituga does have quite a lot of people with geological and technical expertise, but they often don’t have the financial means or access to technology to dig and shore up the tunnels properly,” Geenen said in an email.

A World Bank report last year estimated the number of small-scale miners in Congo at 2 million, many more than work in industrial gold, copper and cobalt mines owned by companies like Glencore and Barrick Gold.

Shock

Kinyenye Furaha passed out from shock when he realised a mine collapse in eastern Congo had buried more than 50 fellow miners including his brother, he said on Sunday, as the hunt continued for bodies two days after the disaster.

Before the rain started, Furaha had left the site to remove some large rocks. Soon after, a child ran up to say water was rising in the mine, Furaha told Reuters.

“We went back there and found only the pit filled with water. And that’s when I lost consciousness,” he said.

Miners were caught out because the wet season is yet to get fully underway, said Kamituga mayor Alexandre Bundia.

“The main problem is that people did not heed the rain,” he said outside his office in the mining town in Congo’s mountainous and mineral-rich South Kivu province.

Scores of men in rubber boots gathered again on Sunday at the mine site on a muddy hillside. A rescue team passed sacks of earth out of the pit in the search for the buried miners, who are all presumed dead.

Back in Kamituga, women gathered to mourn their lost relatives. Sitting close together on the floor, they stared into the distance without speaking, while one held a sleeping baby to her chest. – Nampa/Reuters