Some displaced mineworkers at Gbani in the Talensi District of the Upper East Region have levelled strong threats to start a new life with armed robbery after government struck their employers, the Shaanxi Mining Company Limited, with indefinite closure Thursday- sending home over 500 mining employees.

A letter was served Tuesday on the Chinese company from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to suspend its underground operations to allow for investigations into alleged target killings of local miners and environmental devastation by the company’s Chinese employees in the community.

This is the first time the famous mining colossus has run into a temporary shutdown after surviving overwhelming accusations launched ceaselessly by some local mining groups since it entered the community in 2008 at the invitation of two local mining companies- Yenyeya and Pubortaaba- to render technical support services.

The mining yard went up in open resentment Thursday after the management of the company, in compliance with the orders from government, told a huge gathering of mineworkers to go home until further notice. Among the 552 employees temporarily displaced in the wake of the closure are scores of nonnatives from the Western, the Central and the Ashanti among other regions.

“I completed senior high school in 2002. If I go home now, what am I going to do? I’m just going to join armed robbery gangs. I have three children. And to be honest with you, I also have a girlfriend who is also pregnant for me.

Apart from this Shaanxi, there are no jobs in this area. If Shaanxi closes down, we’ll all become armed robbers,” Victor Azaare told Starr News on the premises of the troubled company.

Elizabeth Yinama, a matron who says she has 3 children, vented her bile in front of news cameras: “This work is helping this town more than the galamsey (illegal mining) workers. They (the illegal miners) have created a hole linking to Shaanxi, causing their own deaths and after that creating a lie that Shaanxi is killing them. We are on our knees, begging the government. If not, if we go back to our various houses, maybe we would be turned [into] armed robbers.”

Negligent regulatory bodies killed miners- Shaanxi

Moments after the miners were dismissed, a news conference followed immediately on the mining premises. It had in attendance the company’s management staff and technical experts, led by the Human Resource Manager, Joseph Anokye.

The conference saw the company’s legal counsel, Lawyer Rockson Akugre, put on display a bundle of permit and licence documents signed by the Chief Inspector of Mines at the Minerals Commission to contest recent claims by a group calling itself the Concerned Citizens of Talensi that the company was operating illegally and evading both taxes and contributions to the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

“The allegations are unfounded. They should always go in to find out the truth from the appropriate agencies. If they continue telling lies, it would not augur well for the district because if Shaanxi is out, the new company they are claiming is coming in will also be out because it’s coming to face the same galamsey challenges. We pay our SSNIT contributions. We have registered all our workers. We pay our taxes as well. They should check the right quarters,” the company’s Underground Mining Manager, Thomas Tii Yenzanya, told journalists at the news conference, challenging the company’s accusers.

He added: “I’m blaming the deaths (of the miners) on Ghanaians (the regulatory authorities). The sealing of these illegal pits (where miners have continued to die in the area) has been [spoken about] since August, last year. They (illegal miners) pass through illegal pits into Shaanxi area and they claim to be gassed from those pits. We at the safety departments could foresee dangers of that sort. That’s why we reported to the necessary authorities to assist us to seal those pits. Up to now, nothing has been done about it.”

Fate of hundreds and their families hangs in the balance

The fate of the displaced miners now hangs on whatever decision the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, John-Peter Awewu, takes after the impending investigations.

The letter from the ministry, captioned “Suspension of Mining Operations- Shaanxi Mining Company Limited”, reads: “The Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Hon. John-Peter Awewu, has received reports that your mining operations at Gbane in the Talensi District of the Upper East Region have allegedly caused the death of some people in that area. It has been reported that this is not the first time such an incident has occurred in your mine and this cannot be allowed to continue.

“I have, therefore, instructed that a thorough investigation be conducted into the matter. To enable the investigators have easy access to your underground operations, your operations have been suspended with effect from the date of this letter. The suspension of your mining operations shall remain in force until the investigations are completed and the appropriate decision taken by me. You are advised to strictly comply with this directive.”

As of the time newsmen were leaving the vast yard, hundreds of disheartened miners, particularly those from afar, also were packing their personal belongings, not sure the company would be reopened…not sure they would be called back.