Digging the Future

 

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet ranks fourth in Africa’s production of gold. Much of the gold comes from small-scale mines, where children work alongside their parents from dawn to dusk. They only get paid for the amount of gold they find, and sometimes they won’t make any money for weeks, even months. The work is hazardous. Mines collapse frequently, and the working environment is intoxicated with dangerous chemicals like mercury, used in the process of extracting gold.16-year-old Yakuba emerges from a 50-meter deep hole after another gruelling 14-hour work day underneath the panorama of western Burkino Faso. Last year, his uncle and two of his friends died when a nearby mine collapsed. News? Not at all. In this part of Burkina Faso, this is just another day at the “office” for the miners—in fact, a rather unsuccessful day, financially speaking.Unfortunately, there is no gold for Yakuba and his team today. Sometimes it can take up to two weeks to find just the equivalent amount of gold used in one smartphone. Thousands of Burkina Faso’s youths live and work on these sites. Most of them have never been to school. For many of them, the mines are their only home. The International Labor Organization considers mining one of the worst forms of child labor due to the immediate risks and long-term health problems it poses with exposure to dust, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals—on top of back-breaking manual labor.Men, women, and children dig the mines by hand, and while there are always ropes for the buckets of ore, there are not always ropes available for the boys who scrabble up and down the pits. Finding footholds and handholds in the dirt walls is not a given—but losing your grip can prove fatal. 13-year-old Nuru cannot recall how long he has worked in the mines. He has never been to school and does not know how to read or write. He believes that mining is still better than working on the fields back home where “you farm the land, but don’t earn anything.” Government-approved dealers undoubtedly turn a blind eye to the children of the mines who suffer and die dreaming of their very own “El Dorado” for the sake of our smartphones.

Matjaz Krivic

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Arzuma Tindano leads an eight-member crew of miners in Djuga, an artisanal mine in north-eastern Burkina Faso. They all trust him. They believe in his strength and his judgment. He takes a smoke break before going back into the pit. Miners in Bani face harsh conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Tiabani (17) and his team have been digging a new pit for the past week. Currently at 5m. They hope they will struck a vein of gold soon. These pits become unusable in the rainy season because the ground here is dangerously fragile. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Nuru (13) cannot recall how long he has worked here. He has never been to school and does not know how to read or write. He is upset because his brother, who he works with, is angry at him for not processing enough material through a machine that they have to pay for daily. However, he quickly says that mining is still better than working on the fields back home “you farm the land, but don’t earn anything,” he says, adding that he is not afraid of working in the mines. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Thousands of youngsters like Ahmadoo (14) live and work on these sites. They are the children of the mines. Most of them have never been to school. For many of them, the mines are their only home. The International Labor Organization considers mining one of the worst forms of child labor. This is because of the immediate risks and long-term health problems it poses with exposure to dust, toxic chemicals and heavy metals on top of back-breaking manual labor.

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At midday, the miners gather for lunch, usually it’s a bowl of rice with some oil and a bit of fish, eaten by hand from a communal cooking pot. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Suleyman (51) is getting in to his mine to load the ore he had dug before. For the last five years he has been working at a site near Gangaol. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Women dig on the surface where they are repeatedly separating the heavier particles from dust, after which, they will pan it for gold. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Babies are put asleep on dirty ground while their mothers are at work and children are laboring in the tunnels, crushing and cutting stones. Bani, Burkina Faso

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The number of gold mines in Burkina Faso has been steadily growing over the past few years. Gold represents around 80 percent of the country’s exports, yet brings no well-being to its citizens. The 2014 International Monetary Fund Report states that the swift rise in gold production has in fact even increased the poverty in the land. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Isa (26) and his team are panning for gold on a site near Gangaol. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Nuru (13) has been tasked to work at the pulverizing machine. He says: “Everything me and my brother earn, we take home to our parents”. He cannot recall how long he has worked here. He has never been to school and does not know how to read or write. However, he quickly says that mining is still better than working on the fields back home “you farm the land, but don t earn anything,” he says, adding that he is not afraid of working in the mines. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Before taking them to the pulverising machine to make them into a powder ready for washing, Tabiani is crushing the rocks manually at his shack at Djuga mines. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Meet Hamidu (28) just after finishing his first daily shift of digging at his site near Gangaol. His “office” is a 20m deep, narrow, dangerous and claustrophobic pit. The air there is thick, hot and humid, with constant thick toxic dust as he endlessly chips ore from the walls into a space he can barely move around in. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Meet Hamidu (28) just after finishing his first daily shift of digging at his site near Gangaol. His “office” is a 20m deep, narrow, dangerous and claustrophobic pit. The air there is thick, hot and humid, with constant thick toxic dust as he endlessly chips ore from the walls into a space he can barely move around in. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Nobila (18 ) grew up in a village in Jalgo, only 26km from the Djuga mines. He has been working here for three years. When he gets some money he always takes it home to his family. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Karuna (25) is using mercury to extract gold from the rest of the particles which is highly dangerous because this very toxic element is handled with his bare hands. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Abdulay (14) is one of hundreds of children working at the Djuga mines. Thousands of youngsters live and work on these sites. They are the children of the mines. Most of them have never been to school. For many of them, the mines are their only home. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Suleyman (51) is standing on the bottom of a hole which not so long was full of rain water. In the dry season he has to buy the water for panning. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Praying areas are often set aside to an entrance of the mines. Bandia (24) is praying near his pit before decending in to work. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Gold digger’s home. Gold seekers from all over Burkina Faso come to work at sites like Djuga, where they live in straw boxes and without any infrastructure at all. Omaru and his team are resting after lunch. After a short break the digging continues until dark when the night shift comes. Bani, Burkina Faso

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The children, who have been working since sunrise, literally crash and lie down to sleep in the dirt beside the hole where they work. Nuru (13), and Kongo (15), are covered with just one blanket and lie close to each other to keep warm during the night at Gangaol site near Bani. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Mustafa Yatra (34) suffers from lung injury and a weakened heart condition due to a dynamite explosion used to blow up rocks inside the mine shafts. The doctor also says he has tuberculosis, a very widely spread disease among the miners, but a proper diagnosis cannot be made due to the lack of medical equipment. Bani, Burkina Faso

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Sulayman (51) at his mine near Gangaol shows off his peace of gold. Small flake of gold on an broken heand ready to be legally sold to a government approved dealer at an official price. Bani, Burkina Faso

Digging the future
MATJAZ KRIVIC PHOTOGRAPHER
copyright © Matjaz Krivic