Yearly, on the 6th and 9th August, the world takes a moment to commemorate the victims of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Over the next two to four months, between 90,000 and 146,000 people died in Hiroshima from the effects of the bomb, and between 39,000 and 80,000 people in Nagasaki - half of the deaths on the first day.
We all know the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that the bomb was made in the USA through a secret process called the Manhattan Project. Few know about the link with SHINKOLOBWE, a small city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Katanga province which at that time held the richest sources of radium and plutonium in the world. Nearly two-thirds of the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb and most of the plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb came from the Shinkolobwe mine which became a gigantic forced-labour camp. Today it is abandoned apart from some illegal miners who risk their lives to dig in what is regarded as one of the most potentially dangerous places in the world.
We have heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but who knows about the sufferings of the people who lived in Shinkolobwe and whose lives have been significantly affected. There was little in the way of health and safety precautions, medical aid or compensation and those working in the mine and living near it have inherited malformations and illnesses.
These people are the forgotten victims of colonial exploitation. The authorities knew that the environment was being voluntarily and purposely contaminated; they kept it secret.
Far away from Japan millions of victims of the same atomic bomb are still silently and desperately seeking for official recognition, justice and reparation. These are the victims of SHINKOLOBWE in the Congo.
Since 2015, the Congolese Civil Society of South Africa has been hosting panel discussions to inform our society of the impact of the crime committed by the Manhattan project on the people and environment in Shinkolobwe. Unfortunately, because of Covid-19 restrictions, the CCSSA cannot host the 2020’s event.
For this reason, we humbly ask you whether, as the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches.
Our common history deserves world attention as Shinkolobwe represents the first victims of the atomic bomb and is a prime example of the colonial exploitation of Africa.
Check us in BBC world on 6th August 2020, our interview.