Verdade (Maputo)

3 April 2014

Mozambique: Rubies of Death

Every week, at least three miners are killed in the mines of Namanhumbir, district of Montepuez in Cabo Delgado. Despite that, moved by the idea of a sumptuous life, almost every day, dozens of individuals continue to face the private security force of Montepuez Ruby Mining, the company that operates rubies in that region of the country. In addition to survive to bullets and the burial, young people who engage in illegal mining have to cope with extortion led by Mozambican Police in the region. The gems are sold a thousand meticais gram to foreign citizens (and nationals) that surround the site in their luxury cars, valued at over a million meticais.

On the afternoon of March 12, Helena, of 21 years old, was am inconsolable woman. The tears that precipitated the eyes showed not only her pain on the sudden death of her husband, but also the void about her future and of her two children. The young woman didn't make it to the news that the man with whom she had joined seven years ago had lost his life in search of sustenance for the family. Desolate and looking at the body wrapped in a white cloth, minutes before the funeral, she questioned: "what will happen to me and to my children?"

Helena's husband was a young man of his 25 years old. Named Abel Juma, he and a group of four miners were surprised by the tax area operated by the company Montepuez Ruby Mining, when they dug Ruby mines in the administrative post of Namanhumbir, 30 kilometers from the Montepuez town. His friends managed to escape and Juma didn't have the same luck. He was covered by an avalanche of sand in the hole where he was.

After some time, when the guards left the local, those individuals who dedicate themselves to camp illegally returned to the location to save the colleague. But it was too late. "We hid in the bushes waiting for the 'nacatanas' to go away. When we got back, he was already dead, he was practically buried alive, "says a prospector who declined to be identified.

Juma was devoted to that activity less than three days in those mines. He was buried in a makeshift cemetery by his fellow battle of Ruby hunt in the middle of the Woods in the village of Nanhupo, about 10 kilometers from Namanhumbir. However, the young widow can consider, so to speak, a very lucky woman, because, unlike other women, she, at least, could give her husband a decent burial.

The case of Abel Juma is not isolated. In recent days, the mines of Namanhumbir became a death camp. Almost every day, in addition to the landslides, there are reports of miners killed by the force of private security company that operates rubies in that region and police contingent installed by the government authorities to protect the mining area operated by that company. On Wednesday (12), around 03:00 pm, when the Group of miners was returning from the funeral, received information according to which three other colleagues had been shot fatally.

Two days before (10), there was the registration of two deaths. Only in the week of 23rd February to 2nd March, at least six people had been killed. On 7th March, two young men went to the mines and never returned. According to the merchant Essimela Juma, the number of victims is increasing every day. "Many miners are disappearing in those woods," adding: "there are at least four forces protecting the mines, but the 'nacatanas' are the most dangerous. They were formed by whites who are doing the seal and, when they find a person, breaks him the feet, the arms and then they kill him".

"Nacatanas", as is known the private security of the company Montepuez Ruby Mining, Lda, literally means "men of machete". The group, considered lethal by prospectors, was created to prevent illegal prospecting in the area operated by that company.

The battle of Ruby hunt

Convinced that they can change their life, dozens of young men risk their lives in the mines of Namanhumbir. The region has been transformed into a camp where small makeshift huts are housing the miners who, every day, are dedicated to that só painful activity. Reports of the death of people doesn't seem to frighten them. In fact, that group of individuals pursuing a dream: to acquire a brand name motorcycle Lifo (evaluated in 32 thousand meticais) or Sanlg (42 thousand to 60 thousand meticais).

The shuttle of miners along the only road that leads to the town of Montepuez, especially in the section between Namanhumbir and Nanhupo, carrying picks and raffia bags, reveals the resurgence of an activity which has become the main mean of survival of hundreds of people. With work instruments in their hands and grubby clothes of red sand, young men walking hurriedly in opposite directions. Sometimes a car is approaching, the Group seeks refuge in the Woods.

Zacarias Abudo, 44 years old, has a robust curriculum with regard to illegal mining. The economic binge of the administrative post of Namanhumbir made him abandon his native city of Nampula, to take up residence in the village of Nanhupo, where for 10 years he survives through the extraction of Ruby. In the past, according to Abudo, the activity was quite profitable, having failed to build his own house with conventional material and support eight children. But in recent days, the miners are exposed to various risks. Besides the danger of die buried, because they do not have the means to match to the mining operations are being shot to death. "Are around here the men of the rapid intervention Force (FIR) and they shoot against the miners. They have no mercy, or give money or die," he says.

Abudo says that he normally needs 2,500 meticais to bribe the Mozambican Police that is guarding the site. On the road that gives access to the mining area have been assembled some species of recovery posts. It's not possible to escape such action. "For every bag of sand that I get in the mines, I am forced to shell out 500 meticais, because the cops are camped in over three different locations. Not all trips are profitable. There are people doing more than 20 laps in vain," he adds.

In the middle of last month, the police for refusing to bribe her assaulted a prospector. In this action, were snatched five bags, of 10kg of sand each that probably contained precious stones and 800 meticais. The taxi operator who accompanied him was not unscathed, having lost eight thousand meticais, a cell phone and his mean of transport.

"To go into the mine of Namanhumbir and return home with life is a matter of luck." These words are of the prospector Bento Ludes, of 20 years old, who explained that, to reach this site, he passes through various difficulties. "I saw my colleagues being buried alive by 'nacatanas' and the police", he assures. However, every day, Ludes leaves the home at 4:30 and returns around 03:00 pm. This has been the routine of most young people from that village.

Revenues depend on the luck of each person. Thanks to this activity, the young man purchased a motorcycle valued at 60 thousand meticais, and has built his own House. "I've always wanted a motorcycle such as my friends," he says, stressing that he never went to the mines and returned without precious stones.

Attracted by illegal mining, arrive every week dozens of young people in the region of Namanhumbir, mostly from Tanzania. In fact, the citizens of Tanzanian origin are a species of specialized dynasties in the camp. For example, in the locality of Nanhupo, @Verdade found a group of five individuals aged between 16 and 23 years, which kept two fingers of conversation. They are for two months in that town. The miners were recruited by a citizen of Senegalese nationality, and earn 2,000 meticais for each time they return from the mines with at least five sand bags.

In the mines of Namanhumbir, often under a burning sun, without the minimum working conditions, young people wage a battle of Ruby hunt. Ignoring the imminent danger of landslides, besides the police and guards prepared to shoot against the miners, they descend to great depths, subjecting themselves to workout manual and degrading in almost endless journeys.

Ruby buyers are mostly citizens of foreign origin, hourly, circulating around the villages of Nanhupo and Namanhumbir, transported in luxury cars. Be said, in truth, who, through arteries of Montepuez, passing through machines that are only seen in major urban centres of the country, such as Range Rover, Ford Rager, Toyota Fortuner, Nissan Teana, BMW, among other vehicles valued at more than one million meticais. Most of the cars bearing Tanzanian registration plates.

Many times, sitting under a mango tree and merchants along the main road, in groups of six to eight individuals, buyers await the arrival of prospectors. Is in Nanhupo where is made the sand washing process to find the Ruby.

The Thais are considered the best customers because they pay more than 50 thousand meticais for each stone. Generally, the "Diner VS" and small informal restaurants in the town of Montepuez, especially of owners from the Great Lakes, are the chosen locations to do business of rubies.

Despite the thick police safety chain, composed of police officers, traffic Police and Border Guard protection, installed in the section between Nanhupo and Namanhumbir, every day go through there tens of grams towards the Mueda district and the Pemba city. The cars that circulate in the survey do not escape survey.

Motorcycle taxi: a "millionaire" business

The illegal mining opened Economic Outlook to dozens of young people in Nanhupo and Namanhumbir. Daily, the motorcycle taxi drivers transport miners from one point to another and they earn, on average, around eight thousand meticais.

The minimum price for a trip, from Nanhupo to the Namanhumbir mines, is 50 meticais per person, a course of approximately 20 kilometres. Motorised, other than the driver, transporting two passengers generally. When the miners return from that location, the motorcycle taxis also charge for each bag of sand.

On 13th March, the news crew of @Verdade decided, aboard a taxi, do the route traversed every day by "hunters" of Ruby. The taxi driver, known simply as Anacleto, is one of the oldest in the business. He stated that the time (around 9:30) was not suitable to make the trip because there were police around the area. To meet alternative roads that give access to the mines, the 34-year-old is the most requested by prospectors.

However, despite the fear, Anacleto offered himself to take us to the entrance of the mineshaft, for 600 meticais. Along the way, he said, since the appearance of a police contingent to prevent the exploitation of mineral resources, the area became more dangerous and, consequently, he has been adding losses. Currently, to get to the place, the taxi driver passes through numerous obstacles, especially death threats. But he is forced to face such situations to ensure the sustenance of his nine children and his wife.

After traveling approximately four kilometres towards the camp of Montepuez Ruby Mining, we were prevented from continuing the journey by three individuals, who sported the uniform of Border Guard, for allegedly being a restricted zone. "They didn't storch us because they realized that you are are not miners," said Anacleto, claiming that many motorcycle taxi drivers have lost their bikes on that route.

To avoid such a situation, you have to bribe the police. "Today, we have no alternative paths, because all the access routes are to be controlled", noting that it took income from their activity reduced significantly. Formerly, the taxi drivers earned per day, on average, eight thousand meticais. Three weeks ago that their revenues fell to three or four thousand meticais journals.

The proliferation of motorcycles is starting to worry the police authorities. On the morning of March 13, around 05:00, when dozens of motorcycle taxis were preparing to transport the miners, the police collected the motorbikes.

Extortion and physical assaults led by the police

On 24th February, the merchants of the Nanhupo town were surprised by police forces around 03:00 pm. The police had orders to prevent the development of trade in that town, where most of the prospectors seek refuge. The market came up with the intensification of mining in the region.

To disperse the population, police fired tear gas and assaulted dozens of sellers. The action, led by Guard Security-Border that make the role of anti-riot force in that part of the country, forced merchants to close their shops.

A week later, resumed the commercial activity, but by this time this happens clandestinely. Local authorities believe that trade along the road that leads to Montepuez town is promoting the illegal mining and the upsurge of crime. A few days before the police action, the village chief and the Chief of the administrative post of Namanhumbir met with traders, having informed that would be transferred to another site with better conditions, such as energy, water and a police station. However, the story has not convinced the vendors, once promised space is located in the middle of a forest.

Later, a group of five traders who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals told the @Verdade Journal that, strangely, they received an inopportune visit of the police. "We're being prevented from working. They say that each individual has to go back to his land of origin. We were intrigued by this comment," they claim.

In the past two weeks, the region of Nanhupo was transformed into a scene of extortion carried out by the Mozambican Police. On the afternoon of March 3, the grocer Madalena Cantifu, 39 years old, was addressed by two agents supposedly rapid intervention force (FIR), having been forced to abandon the market, where since 2011 is dedicated to the sale of food.

"But by being the only means of survival, I continued to work. The next day, they returned to approach me and questioned why I didn't fulfill their orders. I answered that I was taking care of five children who are orphans and that activity was the only resource I have," she says. The men demanded 500 meticais, otherwise I would suffer physical assaults. Madalena didn't resist to threats, having paid the value.

The seller Ramito Fahaina, 25 years old, also went through the same situation. He says, in the first person, the drama through which he passed on 7th March: "I was out of my tent home. When I got to the road, I found two officers of FIR, they asked me ID. When I took the ID from the backpack, they peeked in and saw that I had some money. And they said 'give us our share'. I replied that the money was not mine, because the tent does not belong to me. After I offered 200 meticais and they refused. They snatched me 700 meticais.

For four months in Nanhupo, Rabson Silvestre, 26 years old, did not escape the police action. He says that the agents of FIR ordered him to close his shop. In addition, they threatened the young man with firearm and ordered two thousand meticais. "I answered that I hadn't. They told me to give them what I had; I took from my pocket 200 meticais and gave them," he says.

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