Fortune Hunters Endanger Africa’s Abandoned Mines – by Nicholas Bariyo and Alexandra Wexler (Wall Street Journal – April 11, 2016)

Fights break out as the commodities rout forces mining companies to close shafts

Kampala/Johannesburg – Fortune seekers across Africa are clambering down gold shafts closed by some of the world’s biggest miners, fueling dystopian conflicts between companies waiting out a commodity rout and poor villagers with little to lose.

The result is a chaotic and often deadly tableau playing out deep underground across the mineral-rich continent. Dozens of miners have been killed in subterranean gunfights over turf ceded by mining companies, many of whom fear the collateral damage to shaft walls and winches could make it impossible to open them again.

In Ghana, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world’s No. 3 gold producer, closed shafts at its Obuasi mine in late 2014, as the mine hemorrhaged cash amid sinking metals prices. Early this year, hundreds of men broke through the 13-mile fence around Obuasi and started hunting for gold there on their own.

One artisanal miner, Borin Rufus, said he needs the work even though he knows it is illegal. In a good month, he earns about $1,000 to support his family of seven, more than twice what he was making by legally mining deposits just beyond Obuasi’s perimeter.

“There are no jobs and no other means of survival, ”said Mr. Rufus, who leads a group representing illegal miners picking over Obuasi’s ore. Some of the group’s members are licensed to prospect near the mine, but he acknowledges that a majority aren’t, due largely to costs associated with acquiring a license.

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