More anti-gold mining protests in Sudan as cyanide poses environmental and health risk

A worker pans for gold in a pool containing mercury in Sudan (File photo: Leyland Cecco)

SIRBA / DORDEIB – February 7, 2023

People in Sirba in West Darfur have called on the state authorities to intervene and stop illegal mining excavations in the area in which toxic cyanide is used. In Red Sea state, people are blocking the Port Sudan-Kassala road to protest the environmental dangers posed by mining waste treatment facilities in the area.

Member of the Sirba Youth Association Dawelbeit El Degeir told Radio Dabanga that a group of workers began excavations in the areas of Teira and Soug Koul, roughly seven kilometres east of Sirba.

The workers dug an artesian well and a number of basins for washing minerals using cyanide. El Degeir explained that two horses and a large number of birds died as a result of the use of cyanide.

‘Two horses and a large number of birds died as a result of the use of cyanide’

“We went to the workers to ask them what they are doing and they told us that they belong to El Junaid Company,” he said. “We then notified the Sirba security committee, who then visited the site headed by the commissioner and the police chief of Sirba.”

He explained that they had also notified the West Darfur governor of the matter. The governor denied having any knowledge about the excavations and stressed that gold mining has been suspended in the state and is therefore illegal.  

He promised to send a force to the site.

Environmentalists have been warning of the health and environmental hazards of the use of toxic mercury and cyanide to extract gold from ore for years.

A recent report on mercury poisoning in Sudan points out that “years of indiscriminate use of dangerous chemicals such as mercury, cyanide, and thiourea without protective measures for miners or local populations has exposed millions of citizens across Sudan to lethal risks”.

El Junaid and the RSF

El Junaid Gold Mining Company is a controversial presence in Darfur. The company has been linked to the infamous paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’, Deputy Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council and Commander of RSF, has family ties that link him to El Junaid Gold Mining Company, which used to be the operator of the economically important Jebel Amer gold mines in North Darfur until end October 2020, when the Sudanese government officially took over control.

The RSF grew out of the Janjaweed militias that are largely held responsible for the Darfur Genocide. Former Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal seized control of the Jebel Amer gold mining area in July 2015 and, according to a UN Security Council report in April 2016, profited from vast gold sales. 

Sources claim that Hemeti was behind the detention of Hilal in 2017 before taking over the operation of the mines. According to the NGO Global Witness, Hemeti captured a large part of the gold market in Sudan in previous years, bringing him much wealth and power.

In 2020, the government took over control of the Jebel Amer gold mines. Last year, however, CNN published an investigation disclosing how “Russia is plundering gold in Sudan to boost Putin’s war effort in Ukraine” with the complicity of Sudanese military rulers, especially the RSF.

A gold mining waste basin in Sudan (SUNA)

Red Sea state protests

Protesters continued to block the Port Sudan-Kassala road near Dordeib in Red Sea state for the sixth day in a row yesterday, calling for the removal of plants that treat gold mining waste (called karta in Sudan) that contains cyanide in open basins.

Red Sea state has been witnessing tensions for months as residents protest the behaviour of gold mining companies and fear that their drinking water supply is at risk.

Journalist Osman Hashim reported that a large number of lorries and other vehicles are lined up on two sides of the blockade, while bus passengers are forced to get off and take other buses on the other side of the closed road.

They protested in the area of the 45th Infantry Brigade near Dordeib town.

He told Radio Dabanga that the protesters reject the decision issued by the commander of the Infantry Brigade to stop the work of the karta treating plants for a week in order to address the matter with the residents of the area. Instead, the activists call for the final removal of the pants from the army base because of their impact on the health of humans, animals, and the environment.

The Dordeib Protest Committee commented in a press statement that the brigade commander’s statement to only stop the work at the plants for a week confirms that he does not seek to remove basins and expel the gold mining companies permanently.

The committee affirmed that the road will remain closed until its demands of dismantling the basins and expelling the companies are fulfilled.

The committee explained that the effects on the environment and livestock appeared two months after the start of the operation of the treatment basins by the mining companies that use cyanide.

Two months ago, the local Demanding Bodies Association said that illegal gold mining activities using cyanide are causing an environmental disaster in Red Sea state.

This article was updated on February 15, 2023, to correct the number of the Infantry Brigade near Dordeib town.