CAR’S di­a­monds come in blood and sweat

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

BODA — Bare­foot, with sweat pour­ing down their naked chests, 50 men slave in the depths of the Cen­tral African for­est dig­ging for di­a­monds in a sandy pit half the size of a football pitch.

They all share the same des­per­ate hope — that one day they will find a diamond that will change their mis­er­able lives for­ever.

The mine at Ba­neng­bele, near Boda in the south of the strife-torn Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic, is one of many in the re­gion where groups of dig­gers — or “Nag­bata” as they are called — toil like ants with shov­els and spades for the equiv­a­lent of three dol­lars a day.

The owner of the mine takes a cut of that for food, with many of the min­ers sup­ple­ment­ing their mea­gre ra­tions with bush meat like snake caught in the sur­round­ing jun­gle.

Con­di­tions in the camp are grim. Four men sleep in a makeshift shel­ter no more than 1.5 me­tres wide (five feet) made of sticks, plas­tic sheet­ing and a mos­quito net.

Af­ter long days of back-break­ing labour in ter­ri­ble heat, many numb them­selves with cannabis and palm wine.

“We work hard. I ache all over,” said Jean Bruno Sem­bia.

Widow Huguette Zonki had no choice but to fol­low the min­ers into the bush to feed her four chil­dren.

“I have to sur­vive some­how,” she said hold­ing her baby, whose head was cov­ered in pus­tules. “My hus­band was killed in the war. I earn three eu­ros (dol­lars) a day cook­ing for the men and I spend be­tween five days and a month at a time out here in the camp.”

Smug­gling and sac­ri­fices be partly lifted at the next Kim­ber­ley Process meet­ing in Luanda in An­gola later this month.

Fran­cois Ng­bokoto, of the min­istry of mines, said the ex­port ban may now ac­tu­ally be en­cour­ag­ing smug­gling.

Sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence Since the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence that erupted as the Seleka rebels were driven out, the town of Boda has been di­vided in two, with Mus­lims — who used to con­trol the diamond mines in the area — forced to take refuge in their own en­clave.

The mines are now held by the coun­try’s Chris­tian ma­jor­ity hav­ing passed through the hands of both of the Seleka and the an­tibal­aka mili­tias dur­ing the fight­ing.

“It is bet­ter to work for some­one from here,” one of the Nag­bata said, re­fer­ring to Chris­tian own­ers.

One of­fi­cial told AFP that jeal­ousy at the rel­a­tive wealth of Mus­lims had been one of the “un­der­ly­ing prob­lems” which ag­gra­vated sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in the re­gion.

That re­sent­ment has not gone away. At Boda’s min­ing po­lice of­fice a sign shows a miner selling a diamond to a bearded Mus­lim mid­dle­man with the warn­ing: “Nag­bata do not sell your di­a­monds to illegal buy­ers.”

Moussa Traore, a Mus­lim dealer who set up in the town two months ago af­ter get­ting a li­cence from the min­istry of mines, in­sisted he sells his di­a­monds legally to the gov­ern­ment’s cen­tral of­fice in the cap­i­tal Ban­gui.

How­ever, min­ers and the author­i­ties claim a huge amount of smug­gling is go­ing on, with Cen­tral African di­a­monds be­ing chan­nelled through neigh­bour­ing Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo and Su­dan.

All agree that with­out the boost in the econ­omy that lift­ing the ex­port ban would give, there will be no peace in the coun­try.

“With the em­bargo the price of di­a­monds has dropped,” said Traore. “They need to lift the em­bargo so proper busi­ness can start again.”

— AFP

un­less hu­man in­ter­ven­tion stops it or con­trols it.”

The stakes are too high for bee keep­ers to ig­nore, said Mr Allsopp. “We can­not af­ford to lose our bee pop­u­la­tion, not be­cause of the losses of honey, but be­cause we have 20 bil­lion rands ($1.6 bil­lion) worth of com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture that re­quires bee pol­li­na­tion.”

Faced with the re­al­i­sa­tion that the bees can’t adapt to the foul­brood threat fast enough to sus­tain agri­cul­tural pol­li­na­tion, South African of­fi­cials say that they are in talks to in­tro­duce stiffer reg­u­la­tions to tackle foul­brood.

“There is a team that is cur­rently work­ing on an ac­tion pro­gramme that will be be­tween in­dus­try and the depart­ment that will be an­nounced in the next few weeks,” said di­rec­tor of agri­cul­ture Mooketsa Ra­ma­sodi.

The gov­ern­ment plans to clamp down on the reg­is­tra­tion of bee­keep­ers, heighten aware­ness of the is­sue, and en­force bee­keep­ing man­age­ment mea­sures — such as check­ing the lar­vae regularly — which are aimed at iden­ti­fy­ing the dis­ease be­fore it kills the colony, he said.

South Africa would use an­tibi­otics to treat hives — a con­tro­ver­sial method — only as a “last op­tion”, Mr Ra­ma­sodi said.

Mr Ash­ley-cooper wor­ries that the gov­ern­ment ac­tion may be too lit­tle too late for an in­dus­try that has a lais­sez-faire ap­proach to bee­keep­ing.

In gen­eral, South African bee keep­ers leave the bees to fend for them­selves, con­fi­dent that they will even­tu­ally re­cover, as they have al­ways done in the past.

“It’s re­ally a bee­keeper is­sue, it’s about bee­keeper ed­u­ca­tion and be­com­ing mod­ern bee­keep­ers,” said Ash­ley-cooper. “We are keep­ing bees like our grand­par­ents did 150 years ago, there’s huge room for im­prove­ment.” — AFP

A bee­keeper holds a brood frame with a nest that has been in­fected with the foul­brood bac­te­rial dis­ease on a farm near Dur­banville, South Africa.

Min­ers work at a diamond mine of ba­neng­bele, on 22 May in the Cen­tral African re­pub­lic.

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