JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Homicidal militias were bumped as the greatest threat to artisanal and small-scale gold miners in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and replaced by corruption, a new report by Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) has found.
The report is based on 12 months of research in artisanal gold-mining communities in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Maniema and Orientale, to assess, among others, the physical, social and economic security risks they face.
Interviews with the miners, who produce almost all the region’s gold, revealed that they were now confronted with corrupt government officials, bureaucrats and security personnel, who in addition to bribes and extortions, wrest illegal taxes and fees without delivering meaningful services in return.
The situation was being exacerbated by widespread ignorance of the laws in force, SARW stated.
The report determined that the exploitation resulted in gold miners in eastern DRC not benefiting from notable improvements in the broader economic and security context. This included the establishment of peace in most gold-mining areas, record-breaking gold prices on world markets, and the restructuring of government agencies to increase the supervision and enforcement of laws in all mining areas.
SARW said the artisanal gold-mining communities in the region were in the grip of an historic gold rush and the sector continued its 100-year-long history as one of the most important sources of income and the most powerful monetising instrument for the populations in eastern DRC.
However, while gold was the economic lifeblood of the region, the lack of credible and reliable institutional presence, statistical data and a genuine plan to collect data rendered all policy implementation efforts for the informal gold sector ineffective.
SARW highlighted that the DRC government had to take urgent steps to curb exploitation of the region’s gold sector and stop the illegal export of almost 100% of its gold.
The agency recommended that the government provide adequate physical protection to artisanal and small-scale miners by reallocating funds to support legitimate army regiments.
“Gold production would increase and so would the sector’s impact on individual livelihoods and the region’s economy,” it noted.
SARW also sought protection for artisanal and small-scale gold miners from racketeers who were buying gold from them at unfairly low prices and selling them food, tools and other merchandise at hugely inflated prices.
Further, SARW called for the DRC government to reorganise or close the Service for the Assistance and Supervision of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining.
The service was established to support miners, but SARW claimed that agents were underpaid or often unpaid and resorted to extorting taxes, levies and other fees without providing services in return.
“In most cases, artisanal and small-scale miners are no better off than during the chaotic reign of the militias, and in many areas, they are worse off. It is time for the DRC government to act to provide peace and security and allow for gold-driven economic growth in the east,” SARW urged.