Rabat - The death of two miners in Jerada on Friday rubbed salt on the wound of the 43,000 inhabitants of the mining town. Previously silent and powerless in the face of death and poverty, the town’s dwellers came out against the social injustice suffered by the region.
Rabat – The death of two miners in Jerada on Friday rubbed salt on the wound of the 43,000 inhabitants of the mining town. Previously silent and powerless in the face of death and poverty, the town’s dwellers came out against the social injustice suffered by the region.
Ten days prior to the death of Houcine and Jedouane Dioui, two miners who drowned in the flooding of an underground mining well, Jerada was already flustered by a series of protests against high priced electricity and water bills.
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“How can you expect people to pay expensive bills when they barely make enough to feed themselves and their children. The golden days of Jerada ended in the 90s, people now live in utter tragedy,” Ahmed Belatay, member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) told Morocco World News.
In 1998, Jerada’s coal mine and main revenue generator was closed. The eastern town, built in the 1920s to house the miners, become a virtual ghost town. With no other way to make a living, the residents gambled with their lives in a do or die game, where the risk of losing is higher than winning.
“After its closure, a number of wealthy people stole the equipments and the rest of the valuable assets from the mine and sold them out. The commonmen were left floundering over how they would make a living. The solution was to play dice with their lives,” Belatay said.
In fact, it was “the governors of the city who stole the expensive mining machines and sold them for high prices, leaving the miners with no other choice but to suffer the unbearable consequences of mining underground wells,” photojournalist, Mehdy Mariouch, who conducted research in Jerada told Morocco World News.
On every early morning , the miners bid their families farewell. “They know that their chances of going back alive are much smaller compared to the odds of them dying,” Belatay explained.
The coal mining wells are situated in the mountains surrounding the town. Reaching up to 80 meters, they are either the workers salvation or grave. Crawling on their stomachs, and if lucky on their knees, the miners go into the uncertain in search for coal. They risk dying by flood, lack of oxygen or the collapse of the underground makeshift walls.
“The workers have lost trust in the authorities and promises of a better future. They are conscious that their only means of survival is their own work. The town’s faith is in God’s hands,” Mariouch said.
Every year, several deaths are recorded in these clandestine mines. The lucky survivors risk developing scoliosis, other breathing diseases or cancer. With only one specialised medical center in town, many miners survive only to die later due to the lack of adequate medical care.
“I bargained with Life for a penny, And Life would pay no more”
Even with these high risks, profit is not guaranteed. “Sometimes, the miners spend up to six months digging for coal but wouldn’t find any. Yet they have no other choice but to explore the potential of other wells until they hit the jackpot,” Belatay said.
Those who the odds were in favor and were able to come out of the wells alive are then joined in by their wives, other miners and sometimes children to pack the coal into bags and prepare for its transportation to its “legitimate owners.” Dubbed “barons,” they are the only people in the city with a licence to extract coal. About a hundred tons of coal is extracted per day, or 36,500 tons per year.
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“There are about only four barons in Jerada. They monopolize the market and set the prices,” Mariouch disclosed. “The miners don’t like to delve into the details of the procedure, it’s considered taboo.”
In the words of Belatay “the barons are ghost people. No one know who they are. They send their own employees or family members to collect the coal. Thanks to the fortune they made from coal trading, they started other businesses.”
Through coal extraction without a license is an illegal practice in Jerada, the work in the clandestine mines is conducted with the knowledge of elected officials and local authorities.“The authorities know that what the miners are doing is illegal, but they can’t stop them. They know that there is no other way for them to make money. It is the culture there.”
‘Tomorrow is another day toward death.’
According to Mariouch, “death in the mines is the norm in Jerada,” but the demise of the Dioui brothers has fired up the anger of the population.
Since Sunday, a movement, mimicking the beginning of the Hirak Rif, is in its starting point. Relatives of the victims, friends and sympathizers have taken to the streets of the city, along 20,000 other demonstrators to “protest against the injustices, the lack of infrastructure, the diligence of the authorities and the prospects of safe economic activity in the region.”
The protesters even picked up the slogans of the Hirak protest movement, which has stirred throughout the past year the neighboring region of Rif (north), according to videos broadcasted on social networks.
— Hanane Zelouani Idri (@Lala_Fatna) December 26, 2017
On Monday morning, the authorities dispersed a sit-in organized as part of the protests. On the same day, the corpses of the two brothers were finally buried after their family had refused their burial in protest of their tragic death and had fiercely opposed the authorities.
Miner deaths spark protests in Morocco's east – Thousands protest over living conditions in the city of Jerada after two brothers die while illegally mining. Thousands of people protested in Morocco's eastern city of Jerada on Monday following the rec… https://t.co/s6cbdnSmnh
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An immense funeral cortege accompanied the burial of the two young brothers. The protests continue.