Artisanal Mining in the middle of a city: The Kasulo story in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Artisanal miners at Musonoi in the resource rich district of Kolwezi

Kasulo is a township in the District of Kolwezi in the resource rich Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kolwezi is home to the DRC’s biggest copper mining investment—the Chinese Sicomine, Suisse Glencore and the new mines company -- Africa Minerals (Nationalite). All three have some of the biggest copper and cobalt reserves in the world. The population of Kasulo was moved here   by government from other areas to give way to mining activities. Kasulo had never known mining activities until March 2014 when people discovered copper under their feet and houses. They started extracting copper in their houses, yards, schools and roads in broad daylight. There is intense artisanal mining taking place everywhere in view of local authorities. Kasulo is no longer just a residential area, it is also mining site.

Kasulo is not an area designated for artisanal mining. However, it is understood that state owned mining company Gecamines, has a mining licence that includes Kasulo.  It is not clear if the company was aware of the existence of high grade copper reserves when people were moved there.  The population of Kasulo has refused to stop mining arguing that it is their land and their minerals. They have also refused to be displaced again. They have warned government that this time they will not give away the minerals to foreigners who exploit them with no benefit to locals. Different government officials have come to address the people of Kasulo and no solution has been found. Some government officials have been threatened and chased away by the miners. The government has failed to stop this illegal mining in the middle of the town of Kolwezi although state agencies police and other tax collectors operate in the areas.  

In September 2014, SARW conducted a fact finding mission to Kasulo and met with representatives of local NGOs who had been documenting the situation since March 2014.

When artisanal mining started in Kasulo, it was done in clandestine way until it was exposed to the grand public in June of this year.  The exploitation of copper is destroying houses, churches, schools and roads which are quickly being turned into mining sites.  Local people say that extraction starts inside houses. Home owners rent their houses to diggers to open mines in their houses.  When a pipe is not found inside the house, mining activities move outside into the yard.  Out-of-towners who do not own houses in Kasulo have turned public spaces including schools and roads into mining sites. Mining in Kasulo has attracted a new transport line dedicated to transporting copper to the buyers and traders who have opened restaurants to feed the miners.

Kasulo is also an environmental and human rights crisis. Houses, churches and schools are being destroyed. Those who do not find copper in their yard are left homeless. Equally, the exploitation in Kasulo includes cobalt. Cobalt extracted in Kolwezi is known to contain uranium which is a radioactive commodity.  Copper and cobalt extracted are also kept in houses hence exposing families, including pregnant women to uranium. 

 There is no empty space in Kasulo. There are only spaces for motorbikes to transport minerals to the main road where they are taken to the buyers in small trucks and buses. The extraction takes place in proximity of families.  Holes are left open when all copper has been taken. These holes pose a security threat to community, especially kids. The situation is worse during the rainy seasons the stagnant water increases the risk of malaria in the area. 

The question is who is benefiting from this illegal and risky extraction? It is clear that it is not the people of Kasulo. Not even the house owners who rent their houses to diggers. In fact certain families who gave away their houses under which nothing was found have simply become homeless.  This extraction does not also benefit the state. Most state agents that operate in the area operate illegally. Everything they collect from the miners does not go into state coffers. People believe that there is a powerful network that includes powerful individuals that control and benefit from Kasulo. While miners get paid for their labour, it is barely enough to survive.

The story of Kasulo exposes the collapse of the Congolese state and the gap that exists between state and citizens.  With increasing instability in the Katanga province with new armed groups, the government is keen not to antagonise the miners. There are also local, provincial and national elections planned for 2016. The artisanal miners constitute a powerful group. No one with political aspiration would like upset this group, yet the problems in Kasulo are a clear and present danger.