Maputo — About 800 people, claiming to be former workers of the long defunct state company Minas Gerais de Mocambique (MAGMA), have occupied the tantalite mine at Muiane, in the central province of Zambezia, reports the independent television station STV.
Armed with machetes and spears, the group seized the installations, which are currently being worked by the South African company TAN Mining and Exploration.
The occupiers claim the government owes than six months back wages, and say they will not leave the mine until the money has been paid.
But MAGMA shut down more than two and a half decades ago, during the war of destabilisation, although it was not formally declared bankrupt. The former miners rioted successfully for compensation in 2008. An agreement was reached the following year, under which MAGMA was definitively closed, and the former MAGMA workers were paid compensation of between 17,000 and 30,000 meticais (between 560 and 985 US dollars, at current exchange rates).
Now, five years later, the former miners claim that the calculations on which the compensation was based were done incorrectly, and are demanding further payments.
The government is in no mood to grant them. The Minister of Mineral Resources, Esperanca Bias, said that the matter was closed and that the compensation had been calculated in a fair and honest manner for each of the former MAGMA workers. She warned that those occupying the mine will be held responsible for any damage.
The TAN Mining staff, driven out of Muiane by the former MAGMA workers, have taken refuge in the neighbouring province of Zambezia.
Mozambique was once the world's third largest producer of tantalite, due to Muiane and the nearby mine of Morrua. But both were shut down in the 1980s, during the war of destabilisation. The concession on Muiane used to be held by ITM Mining, but ITM abandoned Muiane, and the concession passed into the hands of TAN Mining and Exploration.
The tantalite reserves are estimated at two million tonnes of ore, and TAN planned to mine it at a rate of 420,000 tonnes a year. When the Muiane mine is fully operational, it is expected to employ between 100 and 130 workers, recruited locally.
Through complex processing, the metal tantalum is extracted from tantalite. Tantalum is used to produce electrical components, notably tantalum capacitators, used in computers and mobile phone. It is also used to produce surgical instruments.