The hell of mining in Katanga, DR Congo: Uranium-damaged

The hell of mining in Katanga, DR
Congo: Uranium-damaged foetuses,
cancer and forty deaths per week
By Eric Mwamba
FAIR Board member
Presentation for the regional conference ‘Investigating Extractive Industries’ (1315 August 2012, Lusaka, Zambia)
Why investigating Katanga?
- The copper belt running through Katanga and Zambia
contains 34% cobalt and 10% of world copper
- Gecamines, the Congolese company of State-owned
copper and cobalt, holds concessions covering an area of
30,000 square kilometers in Katanga, around the towns
of Kolwezi (West Group), Likasi (Core Group) and
Lubumbashi (Eastern Group) World
- China produces almost 30% of global cobalt, its 85% of
this production is supposed from Congolese minerals,
according to the estimations
- According to estimates, the production of copper in the
DRC, would be between 500,000 and one million tonnes
over the past ten years, given the proliferation of
companies that do not report their activities. So the
hypothesis was that maybe in Katanga population has a
good life making a difference with other provinces where
the war and poverty are running.
In Katanga province, many families have experienced
cases of children born without a brain, abdominal
wall, or with growth problems. Statistics from the
provincial Ministry of Health indicate that, in
Lubumbashi, “cases of children born with birth
defects went from five per thousand in 2008 to 60
per thousand in 2011.” The numbers are too low,
says Jean Claude Baka, chairman of the local human
rights NGO ASADHO, because “many of these
cases are not reported.”
Some dramatic consequences noted:
- 40 deaths of babies born with birth defects because of water pollution, air
and soil by extractive industries located in residential neighbourhoods, this
is enough consider that the population of Katanga is estimated at 8, 7
million inhabitants according provincial Ministry of the Interior
- Expulsion of hundreds of workers craft their sites, massacre of claimants
populations, destruction of homes (Cfr Malta Forrest, in 2009 in the village
of Kawama, near Likasi),
- Drying of water supply wells obtained with the support of NGOs
following pumping companies in neighbourhoods
- Many people died but not recorded by the lack of access to modern
medicine very expensive, and lack of trust of the families of victims in
government structures.
- Many cases of death has consequences of accidents in quarries craft,
bodies unburied, the families without news regard such deceased as missing
- Artisanal work in the mines is dangerous, but it is the only alternative for
graduates, families and fathers since Gecamines and SNCC have lost around
35,000 jobs by selling their assets and prerogatives to private companies.
These, despite their growing numbers have not the capacity to absorb
In nearby Kisanga, a woman recently gave birth
to a full-term baby with the size of a prematureborn, whilst three other babies born here
recently were macrocephalic. Two died still in
the hospital. Dr. Rukan, director of the Kisanga
General Hospital, has noted ‘these new diseases’
in pregnant women who have been in contact
with ‘the radioactive minerals that are
transported in open trucks through our cities.’
Deaths from accidents
Global Witness reported in 2007 that “current
practices in the artisanal mining sector in Katanga
are an undeniable violation of legal provisions,” even
with regard to the DRC’s own basic public safety
laws. In 2012, the situation has deteriorated further.
Mineworkers and their families speak of an
increasing death rate in the mines. There are no
statistics or other documented reports concerning
accidents and deaths. Miners often die in the mine
itself, without families able to recover their bodies.
Business with the friends
Ten years ago big companies like Gecamines and
the SNCC offered good employment (at least
50.000 jobs position) and decent services to
both workers and the surrounding population,
but the situation has deteriorated significantly
under president Joseph Kabila. Businesses that
don’t have ‘friends’ in the government find it
difficult to survive. And those who have such
‘friends’ generally don’t pay much heed to
workers’ or population rights. Most are exempt
from paying tax.
Uranium smuggling: ‘if you
control the wrong people, you
can be fired’
According to some of the studies found at
Lubumbashi University, mines that are officially
labelled as ‘cobalt’ and ‘copper’ mines may in fact
contain uranium. “The DRC is a hub of uranium
smuggling”, says Jean Claude Baka of ASADHO.
“The military hierarchy is involved, both in the
mining and in the trade.”
Hakuna Matata
Hakuna Matata has a fleet of more than 100
trailer trucks and an annual turnover of over
several million dollars, and is among the biggest
polluters in the region. Several customs officials
and toll booth workers at the border post and
on the road from Kasumbalesa to Kolwezi tell
the same story: that Hakuna Matata trucks
regularly escape radioactive controls as well as
payment of toll fees set at $ 300 per truck.
Across the border, Zambian
president, Michael Sata, has expressed
concern about the toxic hazards his
citizens may be exposed to from the
uranium trucks from the DRC, but he
has not put measures in place to stop
the traffic.
Like the authorities, mining
companies in DRC do not
acknowledge responsibility for
the environment, the fate of
artisanal miners or the rights of
local people.
There are almost no laws to
enforce good governance and
respect for the rights of people
in this sector. Most contracts
exempt the companies from
paying taxes, royalties and other
rights to the state. The mining
and investment codes do not
contain binding provisions.
The DRC also has not ratified
Convention 176 of the UN
which regulates safety in mining
areas. There is a ministerial
decree called "Kabwilulu" which
requires companies to report
what they pay.
But the latest report from the
ITIE in June 2012, said that
"companies refuse" because
they are so friendly to the
President. A Minister does not
represent anything. The EITI is a
standard for transparency, but
on a voluntary basis.
The World Bank, IMF, EU,
UK, and the international
private sector encourage
Kabila and his friends".
They continue to support
state budget at least about
50% or over
None of the companies mentioned above
responded to questions. Emails and phone calls
were left unanswered. In Lubumbashi, a local
official of Chemaf said, however, that ‘his
company was paying taxes and that the
responsibility for environmental protection was
up to the government’.
*Names of interviewed civilians, miners and medical patients
changes at their request
The article was refused by two media in
DRC before it was published by Le
Phare and L’Eveil in French,Foetus
endommagés, cancer et de nombreux cas
de décès : RDCongo, l’enfer des mines au
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