Mamboleo Murram Extraction Site

Miners' Experience in Murram Mining in Kisumu and Gold Mining in South Africa

Murram, a material used for surfacing roads in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, has been mined outside Kisumu for more than four decades. This essay explores the social dimensions of murram mining and compares it with the better known mining operations in South Africa.

The mining industry is a major driving force behind many large-scale economies worldwide. Since the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867, many other precious metals such as gold, chrome, and platinum have been found throughout South Africa. The discovery of these precious resources helped South Africa’s economy boom and gave the residents there a better life. As in South Africa, Kisumu in Kenya also relies on a bit of mining as a means of economic development. More specifically, the Mamboleo murram extraction site, which is situated not very far from Kisumu, is one of the sites that creates substantial revenue for Kisumu economy. There are many similarities between mining in South Africa and Mamboleo including the mining methods, mining equipment, and the conditions under which the miners work in the mining industry.

South Africa leads the world in the export of some of the most precious minerals, notably diamonds and gold. It is also the world’s largest producer of platinum, vanadium, manganese, chrome, and vermiculite, and the second largest producer of palladium, rutile, zirconium, and ilmenite, and ranks third in the world as an exporter of coal. These are just a few of the many resources South Africa exports to other countries. The mining industry has directly affected the lives of the local people and the exportation of minerals has contributed heavily to South Africa becoming one of the richest economies in Africa. Taxes are paid to the government and the government uses that money to develop other sectors of the society such as education, which, in the long run, help the citizens of South Africa.

Kenya, just like South Africa, has a great potential for mineral resource exploration, extraction, and development. Fluorspar, barite, gypsum, salt, silica, zinc, and copper are some of the main minerals in the Kenyan mining industry. Oil is also set to become a major resource in Kenya. Murram is another. The extraction of murram has been going on for a very long time at Mamboleo, located east of Kisumu.

Murram extraction at Mamboleo is organized by various groups, for example, the Kikao Youth group, a family organization. This group is said to have begun the extraction of murram at Mamboleo as early as 1974. Murram, a rocky soil rich with iron and aluminum, is known outside East Africa as laterite. Murram is obtained principally from the quarries bordering the Kisumu city and is used for road construction. The Kikao Youth group still uses this area to mine murram to generate income for members of its group.

Before the commencement of Mamboleo murram mining, the community that lived there was relocated to Riat hills, a settlement on the outskirts of Kisumu, a move that is widely believed to have been organized by leaders in the Kenyan government. It is not clear what happened after the people that used to live at Mamboleo were moved out to Riat hills. What is clear is that the area started to attract murram miners.

The family organization that owns and operates the Mamboleo murram site tends not to use modern mining equipment to extract murram at the site. In the absence of government subsidy (unlike in South Africa), the miners at Mamboleo often use crude equipment to extract murram. Such equipment greatly slows down the process of mining murram, exposes miners to danger, and reduces the income from the sale of murram.

In contrast, the mining industry in South Africa uses modern mining equipment. In fact, the mining equipment in South Africa has markedly improved over the years. Large construction vehicles and drills are used in the mining industry there, making it much easier for miners to increase their productivity. South Africa has earned R13.5 billion (US$1.2 billion) in revenue from platinum, palladium, rhodium, gold, nickel, and copper from the underground mine just outside of Mokopane, in the Limpopo province.

This is not to say that everything is always rosy in the South African mining industry. The conditions under which South African miners work, for example, are often harsh and even deadly. The government and mining companies often ignore miners' safety issues in order to maximize on their profits. In fact, none other than the South African Mines Minister, Susan Shabangu, stated recently that “the number of deaths due to mining incidents for the period of June 1, 2008 to June 1, 2009 were 142 deaths of miners lawfully employed (and) 135 deaths of illegal miners." This is appalling, more so because mining companies put little investments in the safety of the South African miners. There are also often reports of mines in South Africa collapsing, killing miners.

Just like in the case of South Africa, the issues of health and safety are problematic in Mamboleo. The miners' conditions in the mines are terrible. They lack protective clothing such as helmets and use manual tools that require a lot of energy to extract murram. The Mamboleo miners are often subjected to various risks, leading to injuries, health problems due to inhaling of dust and dirt, and in some cases death from collapse of the mines. The miners have to buy their own safety equipment if they can afford, but few do so because they want to maximize their earnings.

In an emerging trend, land on which murram extraction is done at Mamboleo is often rented from local murram site owners by rich private miners who use more modern equipment than the ones the local miners and murram site owners can afford. These local miners and murram-site owners are not protected by the government from the private miners. They are greatly exploited by the private miners. They are paid very little compensation in return for the use of their land by the private miners.

Mining in Mamboleo has created many job openings for the local community. Many people who are employed in the mining industry at Mamboleo have been able to gain an income and improve their lives. Mamboleo mining activities has led to the exploitation of the resources which are found in this area. The industry has also sparked the rise of an informal and perhaps illegal mineral transaction activities in Kisumu town. There is a lot of activities related to buying and selling gold in Kisumu town. As Kisumu town consolidates its position as a commercial center in the Great Lakes region, the mining business will continue to gain footage in its economy.

The mining industry in Kisumu, therefore, shares a lot in common with South Africa. Although the system at Mamboleo seems somewhat underdeveloped, with the use of crude equipment predominant compared to the use of most up to date equipment in mining in South Africa, the conditions under which the miners work are much the same. Nonetheless, the mining industry has created opportunities for employment, giving the respective local people a better chance at making money and earning an income to sustain themselves and their families.