Australian Mining in Africa


Australia is a giant in African mining, but its vast — and in some cases deadly — footprint has never been examined.

Australian-listed mining companies are linked to hundreds of deaths and alleged injustices which wouldn’t be tolerated in better-regulated nations.

The stories that follow are from people across Africa, rarely heard outside their own communities.

It was 7 p.m. on October 15, 2004, when the men were rounded up.

They were loaded onto trucks, driven to a shallow grave and executed by Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) armed forces.

Col. Ilunga Ademar, the officer in charge, reportedly ordered his forces to “kill everything that breathes.”

Adele Faray-Mwayuma and her three youngest children fled to the forest. Her two eldest sons, a college freshman and a high school senior, stayed to protect the house.

When she returned home she found only bloodstains and shell casings.

Dickay Kunda’s pregnant sister was raped by three soldiers and died of her injuries after six months in hospital.

His father was detained in this makeshift prison and accused of being a rebel sympathizer and a traitor.

At least 73 villagers were dead when the soldiers had finished. More would die from their injuries in the following months.

I’d characterize it as industry-facilitated massacre.

Executive Director, Rights and Accountability in Development

Anvil Mining Ltd supplied DRC armed forces with drivers, trucks and rations and flew in troops on its chartered planes.

Col. Ademar had allegedly been paid previously by the company for security services. He also testified that he stayed in Anvil-provided housing in the weeks after the massacre.

It would have taken the soldiers days to march over rugged terrain from their base in Pweto to Kilwa, but in Anvil Mining’s vehicles, it took just half a day.

Anvil claims that the DRC military had commandeered company equipment to suppress an uprising.

Days before the massacre, a small band of poorly armed rebels had seized the village neighboring Anvil’s mine, effectively blocking the company’s access to the port.

Anvil suspended operations and evacuated its staff at a cost of US$2 million.

Anvil has produced this document — an order from DRC officials to assist the military’s recapture of Kilwa.

It’s dated eight months after the massacre.

You can’t help but smell a rat, and feel,

Executive Director, Rights and Accountability in Development

When first reporting the incident to shareholders, Anvil made no mention of dozens of deaths.

Patricia Feeney also interviewed survivors of the massacre and has campaigned on behalf of victims for 10 years.


Australian companies have led the charge into Africa.
Australian-listed companies are more numerous than those from other mining giants, including Canada, the United Kingdom and China, and often the first foreign player on the ground.

Across the continent, Australian mining companies have been implicated in deaths, cases of alleged negligence, illegal licensing, unfair dismissal, forced displacement and environmental degradation.

Thousands have sued or filed grievances against these companies, their subsidiaries and subcontractors.

We spoke to hundreds of people, including prosecutors, lawyers, NGOs, community groups, tribal kings, company insiders and victims to uncover cases that reveal for the first time the extent of these grievances.

There is a very strong perception

Head of Corporate Accountability, Center for Environmental Rights Law Clinic, South Africa

Since 2004, Australian-listed companies were linked to more than 380 deaths in on-site accidents and off-site skirmishes in Africa.

In Malawi, five men have died on Paladin Africa’s Kayelekera site since 2009, including two construction subcontractors killed after a seven-meter steel tank exploded.

What caused the MEK vapor to ignite is a matter of dispute. The initial incident report says a spark from welding just four meters away may have been the cause, but Mr. Sichinga says a co-worker’s discarded cigarette butt sparked the blaze. International standards warn against heat near such a combustible chemical, as it can ignite flash fires which burn at extremely high temperatures.

NO open flames. NO contact with acids, bases, reducing agents or hot surfaces.

— International Programme on Chemical Safety

The safe and appropriate use of MEK by contractors who required it in order to carry out their works during construction was authorized by Paladin’s Engineer.

— Greg Walker
Managing Director, Paladin (Africa) Limited

To ignite, the concentration of MEK where Mr. Sichinga was working would have reached at least 14,000 parts per million. That’s roughly 70 times what the U.S. National Institute of Health and Safety considers a safe exposure and approximately five times what NIOSH considers Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH).

Paladin contracted with highly experienced and internationally recognized construction contractors in order to ensure that the construction of the facility was carried out to the highest standards in terms of quality and safety. An international firm of professional project managers was appointed to manage construction activities and ensure that the site was managed in accordance with international best-practice.

— Greg Walker
Managing Director, Paladin (Africa) Limited

When we showed industrial health and safety expert Frank Parker the preliminary incident report, he concluded the situation was fundamentally unsafe.

The bottom line is they shouldn’t have been using MEK in a confined space under these conditions.

— Frank Parker
Caliche Ltd

A witness who tried to help Mr. Sichinga told us the closest fire extinguisher was shut away in an office.

When we tried to make him walk, he couldn’t — there was skin on the ground. When we touched him, the skin scattered.

— Moses Simwaka

Paladin denies it was negligent:

Availability of fire-fighting equipment was not an issue at the time, nor has it been since. Both Paladin sites — KM and Langer Heinrich Mine (LHM) — employ specialized safety officers and are equipped with necessary safety equipment. Both sites are subjected to regular external audits of health, safety and environmental standards and practices ...

— Greg Walker
Managing Director, Paladin (Africa) Limited

As he recovered in hospital, Caldwell Sichinga dreamed he was lying under a mango tree next to his co-workers.

Paladin denies responsibility for the explosion and says the contractor is liable for any compensation.

Paladin’s view, based on legal advice it has received, is that other parties are liable for Mr. Sichinga’s damages. … He is not and was never an employee of the Company, nor does the Company accept liability for his injuries.

— Greg Walker
Managing Director, Paladin (Africa) Limited

Caldwell Sichinga has rejected the payout offered by the contractor and has filed a negligence claim in the Malawi High Court against the contractor and Paladin.

If I was a white man, would you give me such a type of amount?

The fact that Paladin evacuated Mr. Sichinga and his co-workers to Millpark Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, regarded as one of the finest medical facilities in Africa for the treatment of burns cases, is evidence that Paladin made no distinction based on race.

— Greg Walker
Managing Director, Paladin (Africa) Limited


The use of contract labor creates a complex health and safety environment. In the case of injuries, individuals can be stuck between two companies arguing over liability.

Not only are subcontractors less protected, but decades of research suggests these employees face far greater risk of injury and death.

Contract labor as a percentage of the mining workforce in South Africa is particularly high. On a per-hours-worked basis, the mining fatality rate in South Africa is four times Australia’s, according to figures from the South African Chamber of Mines.

Siyabonga Mhlathuszana was working for an Aquarius Platinum contractor in 2008 when he was struck by a falling rock. He was 23.

Aquarius says Mr. Mhlathuszana was sitting in a hazardous area with “disregard for his own safety.”

There is no need to employ more than one individual in this area since continual cleaning by one person is sufficient to keep the area clean. Furthermore, this was not an isolated area and Mr. Mhlathuszana was not isolated at this work station.

Mr. Mhlathuzana told us his compensation package includes the costs of medication, a US$1,230 lump sum and an ongoing monthly salary of US$460.

Mines don’t want to be blamed.

Underground Rigger Assistant, Aquarius Platinum’s Kroondal Mine

Norman Thobeli lives with his wife and two children across the street from Aquarius in this tin shack he built himself.

Aquarius Platinum says bonuses are capped, never exceed a worker’s base pay and that safety is paramount.

Aquarius’ codes of practice, policies and procedures are aligned with regulatory requirements as prescribed by the Mine Health and Safety Act (South Africa) and with best practice. Note that safety is not the sole responsibility of the employer — the MHSA provides for joint accountability by management, the unions and government.

Formerly the largest employer of subcontractors of any major platinum producer, Aquarius Platinum has reduced the number of subcontractors from 85 to 50 percent of its total workforce.

It’s a very different situation for mine employees in Australia who are more likely to be employees of the company, enjoy the highest average weekly wage of any industry and where strict compliance and safety standards save lives.

When five men died in a rockfall in South Africa in 2010, the government conducted a preliminary investigation but never contacted the company about a formal inquest.

One fatality on Australian soil can trigger official inquiries backed by robust powers and resources.

Promises and Protections

Many believe Australia’s mining boom shielded the economy through the 2008 global financial crisis and raised the standard of living.

Australian politicians assumed their mining companies would bring similar prosperity to African nations. Federal and state governments backed the companies with grants and became major shareholders.

Africa is increasingly regarded as a continent of enormous promise ... increased Australian trade and investment in Africa is the best way for Australia to help stimulate growth and development in Africa.

— Julie Bishop
Australian Foreign Minister

Head of Corporate Accountability, Center for Environmental Rights Law Clinic

Former Australian Foreign Minister
Australian Senate Committee Hearing, 2013

Grievances rarely travel the 8,000km back to Australia.

MPs, lawyers and NGOs accuse some Australian-listed companies of taking advantage of regulatory and compliance monitoring weaknesses, and of the huge disparity in power between themselves and affected communities.

We uncovered numerous legal complaints alleging a disregard for cultural and religious traditions, forced displacement, environmental degradation, pollution, and tax avoidance.

In a June 2015 report, ActionAid found that Malawi — one of the world’s poorest countries — lost out on US$43 million from Paladin during six years of operations.

The NGO alleges that on top of enjoying a low tax rate in Malawi, Paladin uses a legal loophole to siphon profits overseas tax-free.

Paladin has dismissed the report. It says the NGO was operating on the “false assumption” that the project would have proceeded without tax breaks.

Paladin’s Jim Nottingham says the company tries, but community need is overwhelming.

Mr. Mwenifumbo and Mr. Siloungwe allege Paladin failed to deliver on promises to patronize local businesses, a claim the company firmly rejects.

But Paladin says the “economic downturn” is merely due to the suspension of production at their mine.

If there has been a ‘serious retrogression’ in Karonga’s economic and social life since then, it is due to economic downturn following suspension of production at KM in May 2014. Doubters of the significant economic stimulus provided to Karonga by Paladin are now witnessing the effects of withdrawal of that economic driver. Hopefully, local politicians, businessmen and civil society will have a keener appreciation of the prosperity that mining development brings in its wake when production resumes at Kayelekera mine.

— Greg Walker
Managing Director, Paladin (Africa) Limited

Well, I haven’t traveled to every mine in Africa, but I have spoken to so many people who do this work

Head of Corporate Accountability, Center for Environmental Rights Law Clinic


The places we solely depended on to make farms and grow food to feed ourselves and our families have all been snatched away. Our lands are being grabbed. No one even cares.


According to local police officer Sidiki Diarra, a mine worker called to ask authorities to unblock the road.

The local government authorized the use of force to disperse the protestors from the mine.

Resolute’s CEO Peter Sullivan wouldn’t comment on the deaths, but provided this statement:

There have been some instances where some people in the local community feel aggrieved by our presence or operations, for a variety reasons. This is not unexpected given the large role the mine plays in the region. Resolute is committed to addressing those concerns where it can and discussing the issues where a pathway forward is not readily apparent.

Almost three years after the incident, little has changed.

Our Syama gold mine in Mali employs approximately 1,600 people, of which over 90% are Malian. We have a policy of employing local where we can, provided the employee has the skills, expertise and qualifications required to undertake the relevant role safely and efficiently.

— Peter Sullivan
CEO, Resolute


For those with grievances who can muster the resources and support, the courts provide an alternative to protest, petitions and sit-ins.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights recently announced it will investigate the DRC government’s role in the 2004 Kilwa massacre.

The Commission does not have the authority to examine the role of a foreign company, like Anvil.

Anvil Mining sold Dikulushi in 2010 and is no longer active.

They [Anvil Mining] have never given,

Executive Director, Rights and Accountability in Development

Former Anvil Mining CEO Bill Turner declined to address what he called “incorrect allegations and assumptions” including those made by Ms. Feeney and others that the company never received a legally binding order to assist the military’s recapture of Kilwa.

Mr. Turner says Anvil’s role in the massacre has been examined thoroughly.

None of those enquiries has found that there is any substance whatsoever to the allegations. In addition, there has been litigation instigated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Western Australia and Canada, which has at least touched on the matters raised by you. In none of those cases have there been findings against Anvil.

Previous Australian Federal Police investigations failed to find enough evidence to prosecute Anvil Mining in Australia.

When victims have been able to go before a judge, proceedings have been discredited or thrown out.

This amateur footage was taken during a military tribunal in the DRC in which three Anvil employees were charged with “knowingly facilitating the commission of war crimes by Colonel Ilunga Ademar and his men.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, criticized the decision and a leaked U.S. embassy cable noted:

An Anvil official said the governor of Katanga had spoken with the chief judge and was told the majority of the judges were ‘okay.’ The unguarded comment from the Anvil executive is typical of the clumsiness the Australian-based, Canadian-incorporated company has exhibited since the Kilwa incident of 2004.

In 2008, a class action launched in Australia on behalf of victims was abandoned due to alleged death threats and DRC government interference.

Victims also appealed to a Canadian court, after Anvil Mining Ltd listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In 2012, the judge dismissed the case on the grounds that, as Anvil was headquartered in Australia, it had jurisdiction.

So, Australia is really the only forum left.

Executive Director, Rights and Accountability in Development

Until then, for the families of the Kilwa massacre victims, time continues to stand still.

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Multimedia and reporting
Eleanor Bell

Will Fitzgibbon

Design and development
Chris Zubak-Skees

Data reporting
Cécile Schilis-Gallego

Executive producer
Kimberley Porteous

Additional editing
Suzana Gashi

Additional support
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting