MONGBWALU, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec 16 (Reuters) – When Guy Robert Lukama looked out at thousands of illegal gold diggers hacking away at the verdant hills in remote northeastern Congo, he glimpsed opportunity where previous owners saw only an intractable problem.
Lukama’s former employer, South Africa’s AngloGold Ashanti , had for years sought to develop the 3,260 square kilometre Mongbwalu concession but pulled out partly due to concern over the sprawling blue-tented camps full of miners.
When he led a buyout of AngloGold’s 86 percent stake in the Mongbwalu Gold Mine (MGM) last year, Lukama knew he couldn’t chase them away if he was to succeed in mining any of the 2.5 million ounces of gold estimated to lie trapped in the earth. Instead, he decided to put them on the payroll. “We cannot avoid the fact that…we (have) to manage the presence of (the diggers),” Lukama told Reuters.
It is an innovative attempt to address one of the knottiest problems facing industrial miners around the world and the first initiative of its kind in Congo, where up to 2 million people mine with rudimentary tools, most illegally and in dangerous conditions.
While some mines in South America and elsewhere in Africa have experimented with similar concepts, MGM’s could be the most ambitious, particularly in light of concerns over so-called Congolese “conflict minerals”.
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