More than 50 former miners have so far been reported dead, and others ill due to silicosis, a deadly infection of the lungs, which medics have proved was contracted due to inhaling mineral dusts.
Although the concentration of the reported deaths is so far in Lweru village in Bugesera district, which has a high number of casseterite mining fields, reports are saying miners from elsewhere are dying.
These cases have brought to light a costly lack of compliance by some errant mining companies.
The miners who are dying now worked in these dangerous conditions over a decade ago, while others worked there as recent as five years ago.
What is shocking is the fact that even in those years the country had laws and other policy instruments meant to protect miners and ensure their safety, but enforcement has been lacking, which is surprising given Rwanda’s reputation as a no-nonsense enforcer of laws.
What is even more disturbing is the fact that up to now some mining companies have not complied with the safety standards, with authorities saying some of these are illegal miners yet nothing is being done about them.
Until recently, mining was the leading foreign exchange earner but it is sad to learn that this came at a cost of lives.
However, a recent report by the Social Welfare and Human Rights Commission of the Senate revealed that only 27 per cent of people working in mining sector have job contracts and very few are miners.
The law on safety and protection of miners demands total protection of those working in mines, but enforcement still seems to be lacking.
Although some companies have complied, availing dust masks and respirators for their employees, and investing in drillers that spill water to prevent mineral dust from rising, the government needs to clamp down on those which are yet to comply.
The Ministry of Health and other relevant authorities should take these cases seriously, by rolling out timely diagnosis of miners across the country and offering timely treatment to those who have been exposed to deadly infections.
Many of the miners come from less fortunate households, where they are the sole bread winners and dying means exposing the remaining members to abject poverty.
Those who are battling sililcosis are too impoverished to even afford treatment and good feeding as recommended by medics, which lessens chances of their survival.
The company that employed many of those who have died and many who are bedridden recently closed shop, which has made it extremely difficult for the families of the dead or those who are suffering to get any compensation, which is another issue government and other relevant authorities need to take on such that the miners and their families are helped.