Digging for Gold

On our way to Likasi with Emanuel, we passed several villages that were near mining operations. He mentioned that it was how the locals in this area made their living. I assumed he was talking about working FOR the mining company, but that was not what he meant~
Travel to Likasi (69)

These villagers go around their area with a pick and shovel and DIG holes in the ground to find minerals to sell in Lubumbashi. It is their ‘job’, and he says they make a living at it. At which point he told us of his own experience in digging for minerals in the Congo:

road sellers 2Various forms of sand, gravel, and other dirt and minerals are sold along the road.

One year, just before graduating from school (and just before his mission), Emanuel’s school closed for lack of funds (yes, they just ran out of funds, and closed the school for about 3 months until they had enough money to pay the teachers again). During the time off, his friends convinced him to go work in the cobalt mines.

“Cobalt-based blue pigments have been used since ancient times for jewelry and paints, and to impart a distinctive blue tint to glass. Miners had long used the name Kobold ore (German for goblin ore) for some of the blue-pigment producing minerals; they were named because they were poor in known metals and gave poisonous arsenic-containing fumes upon smelting. In 1735, such ores were found to be reducible to a new metal (the first discovered since ancient times), and this was ultimately named for the kobold. Today, some cobalt is produced specifically from various metallic-lustered ores and is often a by-product of copper and nickel mining. The copper belt in the DRC yields most of the cobalt metal mined worldwide.” (internet search)

He describes traveling down a deep shaft/hole in the ground some 50 meters deep. At the bottom, he would then travel horizontally for some 200 meters to reach the end of one of many tunnels, where he would work. They would work all day, then carry out the material by hand. They could earn about $300 a day doing this– a fortune in a country where that is the median earnings for one year!

The reason for the high wages? The danger. The trick, he said, was being aware of anything falling from the ceiling… if even a tiny pebble fell on your head, it could be a sign of a cave-in~ So I asked him, what type of supports did they use to hold the walls and ceiling of the tunnels? His answer was revealing: there were none!

One day he and his friend were working in the mine, just about finished for the day, when he felt some dirt come down on his head. They both stepped back, and began to discuss whether to leave or finish work– when a larger piece of ceiling fell down. Without further discussion, they both began to run (I assumed from the description that the tunnel was at least 6′-7′ high and about 2 men wide). Nothing happened.

The next day, they came back to get the minerals they had dug to take it to get paid for their work. To their surprise, they could not find their minerals– the entire area where they had been working was now buried in large stones, some the size of a car! They never went back.

Many, many people are killed every year due to this type of ‘private’ mining here in the Congo. We were told that the owner of the mine Emanuel had worked in was also killed in that mine: he had gone down to ‘inspect’ his property, when a large portion of the mine collapsed. The government spent lots of time and money trying to get to his body… but his body was never recovered.

It reminds me of the cave-in in Utah just a few years ago. They were mining coal, and a large section collapsed. They were never able to recover the bodies (it was just too dangerous for others to go in)… so they made it their grave.

Just like the terrible fire, and building collapse at the garment factories in the news lately… it is important to come to the understanding that the lifestyles we enjoy–whether in the US or in the Congo– come at a price!

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