Maputo — In the northern Mozambican province of Nampula, members of the police force are involved in illegal artisanal mining, and obstruct the work of government inspectors, according to the provincial chief inspector of mineral resources and energy, Adelto Cumbana, cited in Monday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias".
"The police ought to protect us in our inspection work", said Cumbana, "but in some cases, we are surprised with police agents controlling and protecting the illegal mining. They allow people to undertake this activity, affecting the purposes of inspection".
Cumbana said it was very difficult to work with the police. He thought that "the frenzied hunt for mineral resources is making some people lose their focus".
Some policemen also leaked information to the illegal miners. He recalled occasions when inspection teams intended to visit sites where illegal mining was going on, and arranged protection with the police. But information on the impending visit by the inspectors was leaked to the miners by somebody in the police, Cumbana accused.
Perhaps even worse was that inspectors have been denied access to the VIP lounge in Nampula International Airport. Cumbana believed the lounge is used by smugglers, who are using it to take precious stones out of the country.
But the airport security guards do not allow the mineral resource inspectors to search the baggage of people in the VIP lounge.
Film broadcast by the independent television station STV over the weekend shows how illegal mining for gold and precious stones, often highly organised, is taking place in several Nampula districts, without the slightest attempt by the police to shut it down.
In Lalaua district, dozens of informal miners were filmed hacking various types of quartz out of the rock face. One miner told STV they sell the quartz to Chinese buyers for between 150,000 and 200,000 meticais (2,100 to 2,850 US dollars) a kilo. The Chinese buyers come from Nampula city to Lalaua to buy the quartz which is then illegally exported.
In Memba district, the target is alluvial gold. Hundreds of men, women and children are involved in the illicit digging and panning. They say that "the bosses", whom they did not identify, pay 280 meticais (four dollars) for a gram of gold. Clearly the miners have no idea of the true value of gold - current international prices are 58 dollars a gram.
The illegal mining is carried out under dangerous conditions: miners are sometimes digging in shafts that are 25 metres deep and are always at risk of collapse. The mining also scars the landscape and poisons Nampula rivers.