Artisanal Miners Toy With Death In Quest For Gold In Busoga Region
A gold mining site is tucked away in the rural area of Nabwaala village in Budde parish, Budhaya Sub-county in Bugiri district, off the now under construction ,Busia-Musita road.
The camp, littered with tailings all over the approximately 40 acres, has a population of about 500 people.
Deep pits filled with water stand abandoned. Others are covered merely with shrubs. But more frightening are visible cracks that run through the active pits, with wet earth tittering dangerously, nearly collapsing.
It is the onset of what meteorologists have predicted as heavy rains; yet, the miners go on about the search for gold like clockwork, unfazed.
The sight of make shift steps cut into the earth to aid their descent into the pits is unbelievable, the likelihood of accidents even more alarming.
One might easily assume this activity goes on unchecked due to the wayward attitude of the miners regarding safety. Yet in fact, Bugiri district authorities have endeavoured to ensure safety.
“We liaised with the chairman of that camp and tasked him to ensure restoration of abandoned pits, but not much seems to have been done,” District Environment Officer Kauma Bernadette told Oil in Uganda during the mine visit.
As a matter of fact, earlier as we made our way to the mines, we found the main access route to the mines blocked by heaps of murram meant to fill abandoned pits, with human settlement just within 50 metres. In fact, one particularly large pit was dug just behind a mud-built kitchen.
Ntale Mansoor, Mines Engineer and an Inspector of mines with Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines explains that the gold mines in Nabwaala, by nature being of alluvial deposits, are prone to sheer stress and the pits could collapse anytime especially with the onset of the rains.
“These mines can collapse anytime if there is heavy downpour. The miners do not even have protective gears with them,” he noted.
Politics and survival
“Politicians, especially at Sub county level, are the reason miners have failed to heed our warnings,” Kauma quips.
She claims the former LC3 chairperson Budhaya, Mansoor Ntambi, had been severally cited as the reason behind miners’ attitude.
“We were meant to understand he was a huge beneficiary from the mines. He would argue that people had to look for survival,” she says.
But, at what cost? An earlier visit to the same mines last year, revealed that accidents were common, leading to loss of lives, according to Batambuze Methuselah, Budhaya Community Development Officer who said up to six deaths had been reported.
“The same miners are the ones who fall in these abandoned pits and die. Some of them after drinking at night, forget where the open pits are and by the time people realize that they could be in the mines, are long dead,” he stated.
Nuhu Kisambira, Bugiri West Division Town Clerk expressed similar concerns, arguing that the implementation of proper mining procedures has been ignored and the miners left to do whatever they want.
“We severally hear of incidents of death especially during the rainy season,” Kisambira says.
When Oil in Uganda contacted Ntambi for a comment he refuted any claims of having any connections with the miners nor had any knowledge of how they operated.
He instead referred us to the Sub County chief, Mr. Walubiri Robert.
According to Walubiri , he had heard the accusations against Ntambi from several sources but was unable to ascertain the truth.
“I heard about those accusations. As you may know when one is in a position of power they may want to appear like they are fighting for the interests of their people. Now that Ntambi is not in office it could be the reason he is telling you he had never been in contact with the miners,” he told Oil in Uganda.
Asked if he personally knew about the situation in the mines, Walubiri said he had been to the mines before and talked to the people about hygiene and issues of security.
“We have gotten reports that criminals on the run flee to the mines and hide there. I have cautioned the miners to look out for new people who show up ‘in search of gold,” Walubiri said.
According to Nathan Mushetsya, the Eastern Regional Inspector of mines under Department of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM), the only way the artisanal miners can access extension services is, if they form associations and duly register them.
“The law does not recognise these people. We have all the information on prospective mineral locations in Uganda. It’s a matter of an investor identifying a site like this from our office and processes a licence for it.
“However if these artisanal miners can process a licence under an association they would be secured and interventions would be possible,” Nathan says.
As of now, the artisanal miners wayward arguments of survival is that people go to places like Somalia and end up getting killed by bullets while on the other hand he gets buried underground looking for money . This is a testament of their determination to operate under any conditions.
Action Aid Uganda with support funds from Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through Action Aid Australia has been creating awareness in the gold mining areas of Mubende, Bugiri, Namayingo, Busia and Buhweju on the importance of forming associations and having them registered in a bid to apply for location services and in return demand for better services from government.
Report by Robert Mwesigye