The miners looked to be in their late teens or early twenties, each with a hand torch tied by string around their head. We watched one then another and another descend into shafts using chiseled indents to each side for their feet and a rope for their hands. Climbers know to make small movements to work up and down chimneys and these lads adopt the same careful approach. Even so, many miners have slipped and fallen to their death.
They climb down and down. It's a descent of 30 or maybe 40 metres to the richest tungsten seams, level with the water table at a point where the oxygen runs out. The miners work down there with picks and bare hands, eeking out the tungsten which is lifted back to the surface in battered plastic containers.
At the top the ore is picked out and then women sift through the sandy discardings in search of more metal.
The ore is sold to a middleman from Bukavu or Goma who sells it to a buyer in Rwanda. I ask the miners if all the ore from the mine goes to Rwanda. They nod and say there is no other choice. It's a tough situation and we made this short video to show the reality: