The ruthless quest for gold in eastern Cameroon has left the landscape peppered with deadly open pits

It was the last day of the summer holidays when, on his way to meet friends in his hometown of Batouri, eastern Cameroon, 12-year-old Saustem Brandon Samba slipped on reddish mud and fell into what at first looked like a large puddle.

The puddle turned out to be an abandoned gold mine, with a steep drop, 18 metres deep. Samba tried to get out, his arms and legs scrambling frantically in search of something to grip on to as muddy water choked him.

His father, Sah, still carries a photo of his son’s lifeless body after it was recovered from the mining pit in September 2017.

Between 2017 and 2019, at least 115 children and adults drowned or were buried alive by landfalls in the mostly abandoned pits in the East and Adamawa regions of Cameroon, according to Forests and Rural Development (Foder), a local watchdog that is alone in tracking the accidents and deaths.

“The whole area was not at all secure,” says Sah, whose fury is clear as he describes how gold mining pits in the region – which locals call “tombs” – have been left open and abandoned by Chinese companies, among others.

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