October 2, 2022

By Allieu Tunkara

Chindatta, a village of the Iron Ore hills in the North-western town of Lunsar looks morose and taciturn.

Life in the village is dull as mining on which the people depend for a standard living is no more.

Hardship is written on the faces of the inhabitants who now depend on subsistence farming to eke a living.

The hardship at Chindatta is visibly seen in the heartland of Lunsar town were youths who are former employees of the defunct London Mining Company (LMC) have taken to bike riding.

Others have enrolled in different institutions to sharpen their skills with the hope that another company would come one day.

But many others lie fallow having nowhere to go.

Most of the youths converge at Shell Park in Lunsar town where passengers board vehicles to exit the town.

The quietness of the town was recently worsened following the riots which took away the life of a casualty and property worth Billions of Leones ruined.

Discussions among the youths at the Shell Lorry Park vary in scope and topic, but they share, in common, one thing-hardship.

One of the youths, Karim Sesay, a mason and previously head of a driving project   told Nightwatch that as long as the mines remained closed, poverty would continue to wreck the township.

Sesay recalled the good old days during the Iron ore boom when he and some of his colleagues were making some gains per day.

“At the time when mining was carried out in the town life was better off as a day hardly passes by without making money no matter the amount,” he said.

Sesay was not an employee of the company, but makes money per day from others who were directly attached to the company as employees.

Hassan Kamara, an indigene of Lunsar was also gainfully employed at LMC where he worked as a Data Analyst. Although he did not disclose the exact amount of money he was received monthly, he told Nightwatch he was lucratively paid.

He previously owned a car which he had sold owing to the hardship that befell him after the closure of the mines.

“I am now in Freetown as there is no more future for me in Lunsar town,” He said.

Kamara’s stay in Freetown would hardly end as prospect to get a job in his hometown is slim.

He enrols in one of the computer science institutions in Freetown to increase his knowledge in the profession.

Kamara is reading for a Diploma in Computer Science under very hard struggle. He is highly hopeful of the mines opening up for business come what may.

He will surely return to Lunsar town for job when mining resumes.

Local land owners arguably are the hardest-hit in Lunsar town. The Surface rent which they use to receive from the companies has temporally stopped.

The lawsuit between government and the Iron Ore miner, SL Mining has halted mining activity in a town that takes pride in one of the largest Iron Ore deposits in the country known as ‘Marampa Blue.’

Records show that the company entered into a 25-year mining agreement with the former government to exploit the ‘Marampa Blue’ and share the profit with the community and the nation at large.

The hopes of land owners became shattered when the company was stopped following the coming to power of the current government.

Abdul Bangura is one of the local land owners who reside at the Delco camp constructed in the 1930’s by the first Iron Ore Miner, Sierra Leone Development Company (DELCO).

Bangura told this medium that he used to receive surface rent from LMC on annual basis. He said the money was not a huge sum, but it took care of his livelihood.

“The surface rent we receive from the company is not fixed. Sometimes they owe us for some months, but they pay us without any problem,” he said.

Now that the company has closed operation, Bangura no longer enjoys the largesse of mining in a town known for endemic poverty.

John Santigie Sesay is the Headman of compound village where most of the land owners reside.

Mr Sesay who served DELCO between 1946 and 1975 said he had been receiving surface rent from LMC which went a long way to improve their standard of living.

“Now that mining activities have ceased in the community, poverty is affecting all of us,” he said.

However, hopes of Pa Santigie Sesay and some of the land owners were heightened after the arrival of SL Mining in the Marampa community.

Surface rent which LMC used to pay them was doubled, and the residents were pleased and elated. But, the elation was transient owing to the disagreement between the company and government.

The surface rent paid by LMC and SL Mining Company is totally different in amount.

“The surface rent was increased when SL Mining took over the Iron Ore hills from LMC,” Pa Sesay said.

SL Mining Company is still heavily praised in Lunsar town in its short term of existence owing to the plans the company presented to the community.

The headman, Pa Santigie Sesay told Nightwatch that SL Mining had good plans to relocate 84 households in 8 hamlets in DELCO compound.

The relocation of the said villages was proposed by the company which, he said, would be carrying out blasting during their mining activities in a pit close to Labour Camp.

Documents seen by Nightwatch indicate that residents must live 500 metres away from the blasting zone.

30th May 2019 was set aside as the deadline for the relocation of the residents to decent housing facilities had the company operated under normal circumstances.

However, the dreams of residents in Lunsar town turned into nightmares when government nullified the 25-year agreement entered into by the company.

As the contract was nullified, the people of Lunsar town became the victims of hardship. Most residents say to have food on the table is big struggle in the community.

Wulamatu Sesay, a lady in her mid-fifties sells cooked food in a booth close to her house.

She compared what she made for the day during the mining days in the town to now.

“In the mining days, I sell close to a bag of rice per day, but it does not happen now,” she said.

Wulamatu is not alone in the sales drought as most of her colleague traders also face similar situation.

Most of the market women say they had not got the huge sales they used to have during the mining period.

As goods go without sales, it is certain that life for petty traders would be extremely difficult.

Subsistence farming on which the people mostly depend does not yield dividend as usual. The farmers used a lot of energy on the farm and later realise little yield.

The deplorable situation in the agricultural sector also worsens hard life in Lunsar town, and most of the youths have been forced to migrate.

As the people continue   to wallow in misery and abject poverty owing to the absence of mining, security situation is volatile.

No one can talk about security in a community where livelihood is threatened.

Until government makes frantic effort to restore mining in Lunsar town, security situation will always remain volatile.