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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 17:32 GMT
DR Congo miners strike over rights
By Mark Dummett in Kinshasa

Thousands of miners in the southern Congolese province of Katanga have been on strike to protest at what they see as the failure of a series of joint ventures between the government and international companies.

The miners, whose action started on Monday, are also angry at the non-payment of their salaries.

The miners no doubt has genuine grievances of their own. But who really is behind them and who really controls the mines remains a secret

The largest of the protests took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo's second city, Lubumbashi.

More than a thousand angry miners and students took to the streets to complain that the state-run Gecamines had cut all benefits and not paid them for five months according to a human rights activist .

They crowded the state governor's office and mobbed the visiting minister for human rights, who only just managed, it seems, to pacify the crowd.

Strike spreads

Strikes and similar essentially peaceful protests also took place in other mining towns in the southern province.

Prospere Kahoba, president of the Gecamines Trade Union Association, said his members would step up their action if the situation does not change.

He added that they were incensed with the way a series of high profile joint ventures with international mining companies had not borne any fruit for his members.

Coltan miners
Businessmen not workers benefit from the country's mineral wealth

He singled out one such initiative, involving Zimbabwean firm Tramalt.

Negotiated in January, this deal to extract cobalt from Likasi gave only 20% to the Congolese.

According to Kahoba, it is there, in Likasi where the situation is at its most tense.

Massive mismanagement

Since the late 1980s, Gecamines' earnings have collapsed, as massive corruption, incompetence and minimal investment have crippled its mines.

But it remains a powerful organisation and in the context of the failing Congolese economy, an important source of hard currency and political capital.

It is at the centre of a web of interests - of multinationals, of DR Congo's military allies, arms dealers and also of powerful Katangese, including several senior and ambitious government ministers.

The Lubumbashi protesters chanted two of their names - blaming them for the arrest last week of Gecamines' director - whose crime was to pay off a million dollar debt to multi-millionaire businessman Katebe Katoto.

The miners no doubt have genuine grievances of their own but who was behind them and who really controls Katanga's mines remains a secret.

See also:

01 Aug 01 | Africa
Congo's coltan rush
16 Apr 01 | Africa
UN alleges DR Congo exploitation
16 Jan 01 | Africa
DR Congo's troubled history
26 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
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