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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Coffin rumours cause uproar in Mali
Map of Mali
The rumour spread across Mali causing public anger
By Joan Baxter in Bamako

A coffin containing the body of a dead South African mine worker has caused embarrassment for the Malian Government.

The local press claimed that the coffin was far too heavy to contain just a body, amid rumours that it was being used to smuggle out gold.

And at one stage, the armed police were forced to intervene at a morgue, as what appeared to have started off as a mere rumour threatened to degenerate into chaos.

Bamako street
Many in Bamako still doubt the official story
Such was the public uproar over the coffin, that a news conference had to be summoned to calm the rumours.

Modibo Coulibaly, Mali's director of geology and mines. berated the newpapers suggesting that a 100kg coffin could not suddenly weigh 300kg.

He then went on to explain the story, which he said had threatened Mali's normally good relations with South Africa and investment in the country's gold mining sector which is Mali's second most important export, after cotton.


According to Mr Coulibaly, the incident started in Kayes, on 1 September, when a South African national working for MAED offshore company on a new gold mine in the region was found dead in his room.

Gold bars
Gold is Mali's second most important export
The police determined that he had died of natural causes.

The body was then taken to a clinic at the nearby Sadiola Gold Mine, and placed in a coffin, with authorisation and supervision from Malian police, doctors and customs officials.

Later, the coffin was then flown to the capital, Bamako, for repatriation to South Africa on an Air Afrique flight.

Human remains

That flight was delayed, and once again, the coffin had to be moved to a refrigerated morgue, this time at the Gabriel Toure Hospital in the capital.

This is when trouble began as rumours circulated at the hospital that the coffin was too heavy to contain human remains.

Word had it that the coffin held 300kg of gold that was being smuggled to South Africa.

The private press in Bamako quickly picked up the rumour and ran with it.

'Coffin X-rayed'

Crowds then surrounded the morgue, preventing the company's officials from taking possession of the coffin and demanding it be opened.

The police eventually came to disperse the angry mob with teargas, and the coffin was whisked away to the airport.

Mr Coulibaly pointed out that when the coffin was X-rayed at the airport, it contained the body of a man, and its total weight was only 153kg.

And yet, despite the official chastisement of the press for spreading "wild rumours", they are continuing to dispute the official version of the story of the now-famous coffin - saying that "to doubt is a patriotic act".

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See also:

18 Feb 00 | Africa
Mali's National Complaints Day
02 Mar 00 | Crossing continents
Cutting out a tradition in Mali
10 Mar 00 | Africa
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