Poverty pushes miners into dangerous venture

Monday, May 10th, 2021 00:00 |

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Dennis Lumiti           

Gold mining has turned into death traps in Kakamega county as residents cite risks associated with the venture.

Residents of Ikolomani, Shinyalu and Lurambi constituencies say the lucrative business has done them more harm than good. 

Miners say the activity contributes to widespread poverty in the constituencies, as the proceeds profit non-residents.

For instance, Moses Mukhweso, 57, has been mining gold since he was 14 but has nothing to show for it except his scarred hands and failing health.

Only two of his seven children attained post-primary school education, thanks to well-wishers. 

In an interview with People Daily at his home yesterday, Mukhweso said he is no longer strong enough to descend into the gold pits and mine dumps and that he has decided to retire, but empty-handed and with troublesome health.

Mukhweso, a resident of Lirhembe in Ikolomani is the portrait of the miserable lives of gold miners in the area and in the neighbouring Shinyalu and Lurambi constituencies.

Precious mineral

While the precious mineral has turned thousands of people into millionaires, it also continues to wreck havoc to many others. 

The Thursday evening’s collapse of a mine pit at Bushiangala village in Ikolomani is one of the several tragic incidents that have happened in the Lirhanda Gold Corridor.

Five people were killed in the incident while several others sustained injuries when they were buried alive in a gold mine.The mine pits are poorly secured with a section of local leaders  demanding better remuneration for miners.

“We have learnt that local gold miners are paid as little as Sh200 daily yet they work long hours, without any protection and in very harsh conditions,” said politician Stanley Livondo, in whose village the Thursday tragedy occurred.

Livondo said they had also established that gold prospecting and mining companies had brought in labourers from outside the constituency and who earn much better compared to enlisted  locals.

“We are not against people investing in our constituency but we can not allow blatant discrimination. What is going on is unacceptable,” Livondo added.

Some of those who died or were injured in the Thursday’s accident were from outside Ikolomani. 

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who visited the site on Friday morning accompanied by his deputy Philip Kutima and Ikolomani MP Benard Shinali, said they had halted all mining activities in the area until rains subside.

However, miners were still working by yesterday morning. Some miners even sneak into the pits at night.

Another miner, Caleb Kulecho, said the cash appears “cursed” because there was hardly any miner who was doing well. “We just do it for our daily bread but you can not even build a house,” he said.

Some mining companies have also abandoned mines causing deaths and injuries to residents and livestock.

Shinali said there was need to improve on the conditions of the miners and review the terms of engagement and revoke licences of companies flouting the Mining Act.

“Thousands of families depend on gold mining along the Lirhanda Corridor but a majority of these miners lead miserable lives, because only the rich brokers and dealers benefit. This should come to an end.”

Anthony Makwaka, a politician, called for crushing of cartels in the industry to stem poverty and protect local miners.

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