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DRC’s SMB resumes ore purchasing after 3month shutdown

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s biggest coltan miner Société Minière de Bisunzu (SMB) recently resumed purchases of the ore after a three-month shutdown at one of the country’s largest deposits.

According to media reports, output restarted at SMB’s mining permit. The permit comprised seven sites at Rubaya in eastern DRC last month. Moreover, the company began buying the minerals extracted by artisanal diggers earlier on this week. The statement was corroborated by the company’s director of traceability, Mr. Freddy Nzonga.

He further explained that the production process had been halted in May this year following allegations of smuggling and attacks by miners against SMB officials. He also added that the diggers returned to the sites last month. As such, production is yet to pick pace as it is.

The DRC produces more than a quarter of the world’s tantalum. A scarce mineral across the world, tantalum is extracted from coltan ore and used in Apple iPhones and other smartphones as well as armaments and aviation components. In 2017, SMB purchased about 1,000t of coltan ore extracted from its permit area. That is about half of the DRC’s total production according to the mines ministry data.

SMB is controlled by the family of Edouard Mwangachuchu, a Congolese senator. Its sites at Rubaya were declared “green” by mines minister Martin Kabwelulu in March 2012. It was among the first in the DRC to qualify as mines that do not fund armed conflict.

Coltan produced in Rubaya is tagged under a mineral-tracking system run by the UK-based International Tin Association. SMB’s license is for industrialized mining, but in order to end a lengthy dispute with locals, in 2013 it signed an accord with the Cooperamma co-operative permitting its members to dig the ore from SMB’s permit areas as long as they sold it to them. However, SMB halted activity at its Rubaya sites as a result of a “breakdown” in its agreement with the miners.

SMB would later cease operations due to its “obligation to take conservatory measures to preserve its green sites” by strengthening security and improving traceability, according to the letter.

The mines were revalidated as “green” on August 2, after SMB and Cooperamma struck an updated agreement in June. The deal permits the co-operative’s members to continue digging for 15 months. It also reaffirms SMB’s monopoly on purchasing the ore.

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