MONTEPUEZ, Mozambique – The stakes are high in Montepuez where the discovery of rubies has led to violence among miners that has turned the northern town into what some describe as Mozambique’s own version of the Wild West.
Discovery of the red gemstone in 2009 sparked a “ruby rush”, with thousands of miners arriving to seek their fortune, but often finding only grim conditions, conflict and danger.
“We have a lot of foreigners who come from a lot of countries to look for rubies,” Tania Mabota, chief medical officer of Montepuez Hospital, told AFP. “There’s conflict for territory because it’s a means of subsistence for the artisanal miners,” she added. “One stone is enough for a person to be attacked.”
The rubies attract informal — also referred to as artisanal — miners from Mozambique, Tanzania, Nigeria and other nations, whose work is illegal, unlike legitimate companies. A cohort of gem traffickers has also arrived to trade in the stones.
Treating a dozen cases of injuries a month and the occasional death, the hospital finds itself on the front line of a turf war between gangs of illegal miners. “Miners are killing one another for the gems,” said Montepuez district administrator Etelvina Fevereiro.
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