Maputo — Illegal mining operations by a Chinese-owned company in the western Mozambican province of Tete earlier this month led to the death of one worker, and the subsequent closure of the mine, reports Monday's issue of the independent newssheet "Mediafax".
The company, Mineradora Industial de Cassassole, was licensed to operate an open cast gold mine in Macanga district. Yet it decided to operate underground too, and opened an illegal shaft 90 metres deep, where the worker, 29 year old Sakson Lobiano, died on 9 May. He had only been working at the mine for two months.
The General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy investigated the mine and discovered a range of life-threatening illegalities.
The most serious of these concerned the explosion which led to Lobiano's death. The inspectors found that the explosives were handled by a worker who had no training in underground work.
Furthermore, it is basic to underground mining that a minimum period of time must pass after an explosion to allow potentially lethal dust to settle. Workers who enter the shaft must also wear protective gear. None of these basic precautions were observed in the Cassassole mine. Lobiano and his crew entered the shaft only 30 minutes after the explosives had been detonated, and had no kind of protection.
Another basic requirement for an underground mine, is that there must be a ventilation system. But there was no ventilation, and the workers were thus forced to work in a dusty, oxygen-poor environment. Lobiano collapsed, and was taken to the surface - but he died before he could receive medical care.
The General Inspector of the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Obete Matine, told "Mediafax" he thought it likely that Lobiano had died from inhaling dust and toxic particles from the explosion, and that "the air in the interior of the mine did not contain sufficient oxygen".
Matine said that any worker sent underground in a mine must be submitted to fitness tests. But the company ignored this, and neither Lobiano nor any of his colleagues had taken a fitness test.
The man who detonated the explosion is a Chinese citizen who has no licence issued by the Mozambican authorities allowing him to perform this inherently dangerous task.
Cassassole was founded in 2016, but 90 per cent of its shares were purchased in 2017 by a company named MMC, which s owned by a Chinese national. The other 10 per cent are owned by the Association of Artisanal Miners of Casassole. 80 workers, some of them Mozambicans and some Chinese, work in the mine.
Matine said the Ministry had no alternative but to suspend all the company's operations with immediate effect. The inspectorate also fined Cassassole 100 times the minimum wage. Since the minimum wage in mining is 5,798 meticais a month, the fine is 579,800 meticais (about 9.700 US dollars).