Friday, 5 October 2018

Jerabos And Their Dangerous Mining Methods In Luanshya

The author interviewing some illegal
miners in one of their caves
By Paul Shalala in Luanshya

A disaster is looming at Luanshya Copper Mines where hundreds of illegal miners armed with picks and steel rodes are risking their lives by digging for copper and chrome at one of the mine's two Black Mountains.

Luanshya Copper Mines is owned by CNMC, a Chinese conglomerate.

But the illegal miners, who are mostly youths, have over the past years invaded the area and dug several underground caves where they dig for copper and chrome in unsafe conditions.

This reporter recently had rare access to these miners who are dangerous and are known for killing or injuring security officers.

These miners do not have safety suits, safety goggles or safety boots, they dig with their bare hands and end up with injuries at times.

Two days before the interview, the miners who are locally known as Ifinyamunyamu or Jerabos, beat up guards from Cobra Security with machetes and chased them from the mine site.

But using the help of heavily armed Police officers, this reporter negotiated his way to the Black Mountain where he had an exclusive interview with leaders of these miners.

One of the leaders of the illegal miners Bernard Mulenga who is popularly known as Pisto, says they risk their lives to dig illegally because of the quest for money.

Mr Mulenga, who is a former convict, says through illegal mining, they are able to make money to feed their families and take children to school.

He told this blogger that despite the dangers of being buried alive, poverty forces them to do illegal work to raise money.

“We work in these caves without fear because we have no jobs. We risk our lives and dig for copper concentrates and chrome using various tools. But this cave you are looking at, we have abandoned it because it is not safe, it can bury us alive,” said Pisto as he pointed at an abandoned cave.

Another illegal miner Evans Kabanda has asked President Edgar Lungu to consider giving the copper rich slug dump to the youths.

Mr Kabanda says just like he did to the youths of Kitwe, President Lungu should consider empowering youths in Luanshya with the two Black Mountains to reduce unemployment in the mining town.

“If we can be given this Black Mountain like our colleagues were given in Kitwe, mining can be safer. They can even empower us with excavators so that we stop mining in caves,” said Mr Kabanda.

But Luanshya District Commissioner Joel Chibuye, who recently visited the site, expressed concern that the continued illegal mining at Luanshya Copper Mines will cause fatalities.

Mr Chibuye said government is now working out plans to find ways in which the youths can be helped to avoid illegal mining in unsafe caves.

“We just had a disaster at the Black Mountain in Kitwe and we risk having another one here in Luanshya. We have started engaging stakeholders to ensure that we avert this crisis,” he said.

The slug dump is legally owned by Luanshya Copper Mines but these illegal miners have made it their workplace.

Their dangerous ways of mining is a source of concern.

Not too long ago, 11 illegal miners were buried alive at a similar Black Mountain in Kitwe.

Despite all this risk, these illegal miners are not the biggest beneficiaries of the slug dump.

Richer players on the black market buy the copper concentrates and chrome from these miners.

The middle men then sale the stones to the Chinese who have a number of smelters across the Copperbelt.

This illegal business is so sophisticated that trucks visit the Black Mountains at night to collect what is dug during the day.

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