Gold at Luhihi in South Kivu province remains elusive, as do the miners' rewards.

Living in makeshift wooden structures covered with blue tarpaulin, diggers work without any kind of protection.
Living in makeshift wooden structures covered with blue tarpaulin, diggers work without any kind of protection. (Reuters Archive)

Up to 200 families have set themselves up near a gold mine at Luhihi in South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, living in miserable conditions after spending long hours in digging holes in the desperate hope of finding gold.

The area started attracting diggers two years ago when locals discovered a hill where they said you could "pick up gold from the ground".

Living in makeshift wooden structures covered with blue tarpaulin, diggers work without any kind of protection.

Artisanal diggers have been recognised by law since December 2018, allowed to mine as long as they belong to a cooperative and pay their dues to the state.

The law though is rarely enforced and in Luhihi, police are nowhere to be seen.

In the absence of the state, popular justice is meted out.

Didier Ciza, a civil society representative in Luhihi, complains that "all thieves are lynched".

DR Congo's soil is full of mineral wealth, including gold.
DR Congo's soil is full of mineral wealth, including gold. (Reuters Archive)

Digging for survival

In just five months, seven miners have died in Luhihi, either following communal conflicts or asphyxiated underground.

And the gold itself remains elusive, as do the miners' rewards.

"We enter the mine like animals, on all fours, and if we get tired, we slide down on our bums," Hardy Bisimwa, a gold miner, says.

"We don't even have the means to find soap to wash ourselves," says Bisimwa, his body covered in yellow dust from the clay soil.

In seven months, Bisimwa only found gold once.

But he says he's not losing hope.

"With God's help, I will still find some to provide for my wife and three children."

DR Congo's soil is full of mineral wealth, including gold.

Yet a large majority of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day, the international poverty rate, according to the World Bank.

Any gold found is given to the local owners of the shafts who sell it to traders in Bukavu, capital of South Kivu.

In Luhihi, a kilo of gold fetches $450 – far below the global price for the precious metal. And even then, it's unclear what the diggers themselves get for the few grams they find.

READ MORE: Makeshift gold mine collapse kills at least 12 miners in DRC

Source: TRTWorld and agencies