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Update 4: Impacts of COVID-19 on ASM: Insights from the ground

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Interview with the President of an Artisanal Mining Cooperative in Kolwezi

What local impacts are you seeing the COVID-19 pandemic having on your life and community?

The prices of staple foods have increased dramatically in Kolwezi, DRC, with a sack of maize flour now selling for over US$50, double the price it was the previous week. Also, in Kolwezi, the people couldn’t circulate in the city for two days [during lockdown], but now that restriction has been lifted. However, the increasing cost of goods, food and other needs makes it very difficult for the ASMs to survive.

What affect is the COVID-19 is having on the artisanal and small-scale mining sector in DRC?

Social considerations – Artisanal miners are young people who earn a living day to day. With the decision to protect their health by staying at home for two weeks, our families will live how? We live day by day; this will be complicated for us. We thank god that no cases have been registered here. We demand measures to let us restart our work activities, but without forgetting to respect health standards such as washing hands, keeping a safe distance and not coughing.

Alternative sources of revenue – For the artisanal miners, [their] principle activity is what we are doing (i.e. mining). There are also secondary activities, like agriculture. Right now we are in the rainy season, so we have to wait two or three months to harvest what we planted. Again, we weren’t ready for this stoppage. Other secondary activities are small scale buying/selling that some of the wives do at home, but that’s not enough to finance all our [family] needs, such as paying school fees or going to the hospital for treatment during this epidemic.

What steps have you and your cooperative taken to address the COVID-19 outbreak?

Artisanal miners also need [their] health, [and] they also should respect health standards. [Our cooperative has] started with sensitization for artisanal miners accompanied by [our] large-scale mining partner’s doctor, who gave guidance on how to protect ourselves from this epidemic. We also purchased a non-contact thermometer to check miners entering the site to help them know their own health status.

What is the current situation for your cooperative and what do you want to happen in the future?

Our operation is shut down and we don’t know what will happen. The way that [the Cooperative] has trained our members and the way that they work in the cooperative, [our members] could decide to go work on privately owned concession [informal ASM site without authorization of the concession holders]. Some artisanal miners [have come to me] and said that they are no longer used to working in those conditions in deep pits. Someone who worked before in deep pits before saw fatal accidents. He was lucky to join [the cooperative], where we work in an open pit and he knows the advantage of working in an open pit and working in a cooperative where he is respected. He cannot have the idea or the hope to work in a clandestine manner. The artisanal miners are simply requesting that they can go back to work in good conditions [at the formal mine site]. We want to resume our activities so we can earn a living for our families.

Zimbabwe: Disruption to ASM gold producers affecting national economy

Country Overview
ASM Workforce
: 500,000 miners
COVID-19 Country Status
: 8 COVID-19 Cases (as of 1/4/2020)1
Government Actions:

  • Zimbabwe now on a 21 day national lockdown effective March 30 (announcement was made on March 27)
  • Essential services have been exempted from the lockdown including health clinics, food industry, hospitals & pharmacies, and service delivery. A full list is available in the newly established Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order2
  • Minister of Mines has announced guidelines on essential services required to preserve the operating capacity in the mining industry during the lockdown in consultation with Chamber of Mines Zimbabwe (COMZ) and Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF).
  • For continued operation, ASMs are advised to apply through ZMF stating the nature of operation during the lockdown and measures that will be taken safe guard employees.
  • Once an application has been lodged, company/syndicate/miner can continue to operate pending a response from government

Impact on Miners

  • Majority of miners and community members are staying indoors most likely due to fear of law enforcement agents enforcing lockdown, rather than for personal health protection. With COVID-19 cases currently at low levels, miners perceive the risk for the country to be low.
  • In Shurugwi, a mining center in Midlands Province, mine management committees have been setup to deliberate on the COVID-19 risks in the district and strategize on the possible way forward. Members are hopeful they will be able to apply for exemption for mining but in the meantime are abiding by the call to stay at home. Currently only COVID-19 screening facilities exist in Shurugwi. The government has however pledged to decentralize testing centers to support local health providers.
  • Miners are concerned that they will suffer significant financial losses as they are not able to be producing. They suggest that the lockdown be carried out in certain places whilst others are put under heavy monitoring. However, there are doubts in the government’s capacity to monitor the situation effectively due to resources constraints. Miners highlighted that within their communities there is likely to be a hunger crisis as prior to the lockdown announcement there had been a food crisis associated with mealie meal (a staple food in Zimbabwe).
  • Most mine owners in Gwanda have resorted to staying home while they monitor the presence of security forces. However, they indicate that at their mines they do have personnel on site, so they are not on total shutdown but rather scaled down operations. With movement restricted, some owners are providing care and maintenance to supply essentials such as water and food.

Other Resources

Photo from April 1st in Shurugwi town, a center for gold trading and other businesses supported by mining in Midlands Province showing limited public activity at central transportation boarding point used to access various residential and mining sites within the region.

Article Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo Gold, Cobalt Political, Formalization, Large-scale Mining, Supply Chains, Economic, Access to Markets, Business Models, Income, Social, Employment, Health and Safety, Human Rights, Labor and Working Conditions, Livelihoods, COVID-19

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