Human rights defenders, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) working together with private lawyer Khumbo Soko, have launched consultations with rural Malawians near Kayelekera Uranium Mine and Mwaulambo Elland’s Coal Mine in the largest mining district of Karonga.
Speaking during the fact-finding mission yesterday, CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo described the pending litigation as a last resort to lift the veil of secrecy that overshadows the country’s extractive sector.
Soko heard chilling stories of neglect from the people among the rural poor affected by mining as he strives to build a solid case against government failure to protect its citizens.
The human faces of the unsettling phenomenon included Abraham Siliwonde, who literally broke into tears as he recounted his losing battle to acquire medical treatment and compensation having lost sight working as a guard, driver and spotter in the dusty conditions at the uranium mine in the mineral-rich hills north west of Karonga.
The father-of-seven, 35, who lives with four orphans, cried for his children who have been redu ced to beggars as he has sold almost all his assets in a lone struggle for quality medical care and to feed his family.
“Begging is not dignifying and I hear government wants to clear all beggars from the streets, but my children have become urchins because government is failing to protect its citizens from mining companies,” he said.
The man, who worked for Mota-Engil at Kayelekera from June 13 2010, was retrenched on November 29 2013 when he started demanding compensation for his lost vision.
He has a medical report done by Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) opthalmologist Dr J Msosa which reads: “This vitritis (posterior oveiritis) may indeed be due to exposure to radiation.”
The case, which is already active in the High Court, points to the Ministry of Labour’s failure to uphold labour laws and occupational health standards.
Soko reckoned that the looming litigation will reawaken the seemingly dead laws.
Siliwonde’s predicament is one of the numerous cases mirroring the ruinous flipside of mining which CHRR has compiled since 2009 when the opening of Kayelekera catalysed a mining boom in Karonga.
He demanded government to release Kayelekera’s environmental impact assessment (EIA), saying people have the right to know how investments in their area will benefit or haunt them.
The people of Karonga could be suffering because of failure to reach a consensus as early as 2006 when the civil society started warning against the ruinous impact of coal mining, said Catholic Commission for Justice and Justice (CCJP) desk officer Mwawi Shaba. n