Pink coffins mark growing death toll of Congo gold mine collapse

A general view shows an artisanal gold mine near Kamituga
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows an artisanal gold mine near Kamituga in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, September 13, 2020. REUTERS/Crispin Kyalangalilwa

September 14, 2020

By Crispin Kyala

KAMITUGA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Pink painted coffins lined a hillside in eastern Congo on Monday as rescuers filled them with the bodies of victims of a gold mine cave-in, in which 50 people are feared dead.

Alexandre Ngandu Kamundala, deputy mayor of Kamituga, one of Democratic Republic of Congo’s oldest gold-mining communities close to where the unofficial mine collapsed on Friday, said that 19 bodies have so far been found.

“All the inhabitants have stayed at home … to pay tribute to the victims,” Kamundala said, as an outpouring of grief continued, with shops and markets in Kamituga closed.

Dozens die each year in unregulated mines in Congo, where often ill-equipped diggers burrow deep in search of ore.

Agnes Wabiwa said her brother-in-law was among the dead.

“He was our sole breadwinner, we don’t know how the family will continue to live without him,” Wabiwa said.

The head of the local artisanal miners organisation Anselme Ndjungu said the lack of oversight by government or investment in proper tools or safety equipment made accidents inevitable.

“We cannot escape from such a catastrophe, because we are not supervised by services supposed to guide us,” he told Reuters.

Congo is one of the largest artisanal gold producers in the region yet one of the smallest exporters, the United Nations said in a report this year, with tonnes instead smuggled into global supply chains through Congo’s eastern neighbours.

(Reporting by Crispin Kyala in Kamituga; Additional reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Edward McAllister and Alexander Smith)