Maputo — Four illegal miners died between Thursday and Tuesday in a series of collapses of unsafe shafts they had dug in the concession area worked by the company Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM) in Montepuez, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado.
A release from MRM stated that, on 26 March, the company "was informed by the Ntoro community that an illegal miner had been buried by the collapse of a shaft within the MRM concession zone, in the area known as 'Central'. The illegal miners recovered the body and took it into the town".
The following day, MRM was informed of another collapse, in a place known as Krongolo Simba, in which a second miner died. At around midnight on Sunday, a third miner died under near identical circumstances, and the fourth death occurred on Monday morning.
In all four cases, the local communities notified the police who went to the site of the collapses, and the bodies were identified. MRM says it has also notified the Montepuez district police command and the authorities in Montepuez and Maputo.
The company's release adds "MRM is continuing to work with the Mozambican authorities to raise the awareness of the local communities about the dangers of artisanal mining, and to help fight contraband in rubies".
The company wants to reduce the risks faced by the miners, and "the exploitation of vulnerable groups by well-organised crime syndicates".
Since the start of this year, MRM says, there has been a growing number of invasions of its area, leading to tragedies, when the artisanal mine shafts crush the miners working in them. Mine collapses killed at least 11 illegal miners on the MRM concession in February.
The company says that, in its earlier investigations, in 2019, it found situations of "modern slavery". The great majority of the illegal miners were not from Cabo Delgado, but from the neighbouring province of Nampula, and they were trapped into making payments to the ruby smuggling syndicates.
Some of them had been asked to make a payment to the syndicates in order to be granted the "opportunity" to mine and be provided with transport to, and food and accommodation in, the Montepuez area. MRM found that when they could not pay these fees at once, "the syndicates offer to provide a loan which the illegal miner is to repay later from his ruby mining activities, thereby placing the miner in debt with the syndicate".
The syndicate takes the rubies dug by the illegal miners and sells them on higher up the ruby smuggling chain. "The illegal miner receives only a fraction of the sums involved", said MRM. "Indebted to the syndicates and with no spare cash, these illegal miners cannot freely return home".
The MRM investigation concluded "that these illegal miners are deliberately being put into debt bondage by middlemen and syndicate leaders, who exploit conditions of poverty and unemployment in struggling communities, thereby practicing a form of modern-day slavery.