Hundreds of informal miners in northern Mozambique, which supplies 80 per cent of the world’s ruby production, challenge hunger, police and a multinational company daily to illegally scour crumbs of precious stones for survival.
Faque Almeida, 46, is one of them. He has been digging the undergrowth of the Montepuez district for eight years. Part of the booty extracted from the subsoil is feeding the black market.
“We will not stop because we have nothing else, there is no work in Mozambique, we are here because we know that there are rubies here. we were thieves before, but after finding rubies they do not want to go back to their previous lives,” said Leao Leonardo Vaneque, an informal miner.
Witnesses say the precious stones unearthed by illegal miners are sold to traders from Senegal, Nigeria or Mali, who do business in the area.
While critics suspect the police might be getting its share of the booty, reason for which they tolerate the trade, the miners accuse the police of brutality and summary execution.
Another informal miner, Zulu, asked the government to allow to continue mining, arguing that the government can buy precious stones from them and in turn sell them to foreign countries.
“We do not want to be hunted with weapons, put in jail, and at the moment we are working hard to raise enough money to pay for the release of our friends in prison,” he added.
The discovery of the first rubies in the region ten years ago caused thousands of people to scramble for gems before the Mozambican government got involved.