Ian Byron, Nation Media Group
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Tension is high at Macalder’s Copper Hill Mines in Nyatike after two factions of artisanal miners clashed over an ongoing mining expedition despite a court directive stopping activities at the site.
Tension has been brewing for the past few days after the miners differed over a recent court directive that halted operations in the mineral-rich belt before it emerged that activities were still going on in the mines.
On Monday, a rival group staged a peaceful demonstration to protest the influx of foreign tycoons and senior county government officials, whom they have accused of reaping from the gaping death traps.
The peaceful demonstration spiralled into full blown violent confrontations on Tuesday after rival factions who have been in support of the ongoing excavations at the Macalder mines attacked the protesters.
“We cannot sit back and watch our only source of livelihood taken away from us by cartels and county government officials who should be in the forefront of safeguarding our livelihood,” Mr Jerry Ogolla, a miner, said.
The furious miners vowed not to relent, while calling on Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes to act fast and address the situation as they fear it could turn deadly.
“I am afraid these constant wrangles may turn deadly if urgent intervention is not done. It pains locals that the majority of those involved in mineral exploration are business tycoons who reap from their land at a time they (locals) have been denied operation permits,” Mr Ogolla said.
Migori County Gold Miners’ Association chairman Kephas Ojuka said the persistent wrangles at the mines had been caused by locals who felt disenfranchised by foreigners who had invaded the mineral-rich region.
“The main bone of contention is that a section of cartels has monopolised mining in the area, while local miners feel the area has been their source of livelihood,” explained Mr Ojuka.
He added: “The long lasting solution is to have all the cartels thrown out of the mines and leadership in the sites brought on board for dialogue. The Mining Act provides that the mines should be under government but local residents are not acquainted with the provision.”
Macalder Mines Savings and Credit Co-operative Society chairman Felix Okwanyo said they have embarked on land restoration. However, he said they will not discard precious minerals that they are likely to find in the process.
On November 25, 2020, the Environment and Lands court sitting in Migori suspended mining operations at the Macalder mines and ordered the restoration of the vast parcel which was marked as an environmental hazard.
This was after six miners were buried alive after one of the mines caved in.
The land is yet to be restored to its original form.
MP Tom Odege also ordered the closure of the mines to allow the warring factions to solve their differences.
Macalder small-scale miners had previously accused both the national and county governments of failing to protect them against exploitation and poor working conditions.