Ntungamo — About 800 miners in Rwamwire and Mwerasandhu tin mines in Ruhaama County, Ntungamo District, have protested against low prices offered by Zanack Holdings Mining Company and accused its managers of highhandedness.
The miners said the price of tin at the mine has fallen to the lowest in 30 years yet Zanack Holdings does not allow them to sell the mineral to other companies that are offering higher prices. A kilogramme of tin goes from Shs14,000, down from Shs25,000 three months ago.
The artisanal miners said in the past, they would be paid per day but they now spend more than a week without being paid by the mining company.
"We wake up every morning to work in mines; this is the only job we have because we do not have plantations like in other areas," Mr Robert Mucunguzi, a miner, said on Monday.
"But you enter this tunnel and someone remains up with a gun and when you get tin, they escort you up to the office to have your tin sieved and then you don't get money; this is slavery," he added.
Mr Davis Mucunguzi, another miner, added that they are harassed using guns.
"The prices, let them dictate because we want any money available but let them not use the guns as if we are slaves in Egypt, let them pay us in time. We are at a high risk of death because we have seen our colleagues die as tunnels collapse on them; we want fair working conditions," Mr Mucunguzi said.
Mr Deus Bindeba, another miner, said: "There are other agents where we can sell tin so that we get money for food, but they even don't allow us to sell there. They want us to stock tin at the company office and we go home with nothing after a long day of mining."
However, Mr Anthony Rwegasira, the manager Zanack Holdings Company, said tin prices have fallen because of government policy that does not allow anyone to sell unprocessed minerals out of the country as well as the closure of the Rwanda border.
"We were buying the tin at high prices because we had market where we have been exporting, but now we are just buying to horde. There has been ready market in Rwanda but because the border has since been closed, there is nowhere we take tin apart from storing it, so we may not even have the e money ready to pay the miners," he said.
"And if we leave them, they sell it in the black market yet we invest a lot in them when they are mining in our mines here," Mr Rwegasira said.
Mr Rwegasira said they guard the miners to stop them from selling the mineral on the black market where the buyers do not invest anything. Mr Jonathan Kweyunga, a miner, however, said they will lay down their tools if the situation does not improve.