AngloGold Ashanti plans to begin production at its Mongbwalu Mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo late next year, however, it is now facing the challenge of dealing with tens of thousands of artisanal miners, many of whom are ex fighters of the bloody 2003 conflict in the area.
“It’s an immense challenge and we recognize that,” Richard Peattie, general manager of the Mongbwalu project, told Reuters.
AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third-biggest mining firm, is partnered with Congo’s government to build the industrial gold mine in a vast zone deep in the hills of Ituri, a district in the central African state still recovering from a bloody ethnic conflict that ended in 2003.
As many as 200,000 artisanal miners, mostly ex-combatants from the conflict, have set up operations in the 6,000 km2 concession. Some of the groups are equipped with well-organized teams and machinery.
Many who laid down their weapons to dig and pan for gold are now making as much $50 a day, a huge sum in a country ranked as one of the poorest and least developed in the world.
AngloGold acknowledges it will need to negotiate with artisanal miners on its sites.
Civil society president in Mongbwalu, Godefroid Mpanda said that some of the former fighters who drink and dance in the town’s many bars have maintained links with armed groups, adding it would be easy for them to get weapons if things turned sour.
“We think its going to be violent because most of the miners are formerly from armed groups, some still have links... If they rise up, its going to be brutal,” he told Reuters.
AngloGold has held the concession - with proven reserves of 2.5 million oz - since 1998 and has had a presence there since 2004, but insecurity has hampered work. Construction is only now getting under way. The mine is one of two projects it has in the country.
“We’re not just going to kick them all out, there needs to be a process, something to catch them, otherwise we’ve got another set of social upheavals to deal with,” said Peattie. “We will be moving around and building, which will bring us into conflict (with artisanal miners), and in those areas we’ll need a negotiated approach to create buffer zones.”
Congolese law forbids artisanal exploitation on the concession, but with few other alternative livelihoods, locals have for decades relied on mining.
AngloGold's joint-venture, called AGK, has already established an exclusion zone around 4 km from Mongbwalu and cleared up to 3,000 miners from the site.
But the company has also been targeted in recent attacks. In two separate incidents guards from AGK have been attacked by unidentified men armed with machetes and one of their vehicles was torched, sources said.