On the 13th of April, a cloudy and wet day, we took a chance to visit Panguna mine.
Before we left Arawa we thought that it will be sun shine in Panguna but unfortunately it was not. When we reached Panguna we couldn’t see anything, it was all cloudy, so we drove to the top of the hill on the west side and stopped at a house at the mine site.
Out came the person who owns the place and lives there since the mine stopped. As I wasn’t able to go out and take footage I asked him if he could talk on the camera about the issue of re-opening Panguna mine.
Max is one of the landowners who makes a living carrying people on his truck to Arawa and back. The first question I asked was: “You have build this house in a mine site and BCL is planning to come back. If all the negotiations go well with the pro-mining landowners will you move from here?” He says “I will not move, this is my land and I have no place to go.”
He pointed to the gardens on the hills behind us and stated, “That is all the land left for us to make our gardens, the rest is being dug up and left with gravel, you can’t plant food here now. Those who are talking about re-opening the mine live on money not on the land, they are like the old people who sold our land for axes and tobacco. If we let BCL come back again where will we go? we don’t have land anywhere else on Mekmaui.”
While talking with him a mother and her son age about 6 or 7 came covering themselves from the rain with a banana leave and an umbrella. They came to one of the houses near Max’s and were putting down taro when I walked over to them and asked the woman if I could take their photo, she agreed and I filmed them. Later I asked her if she mind if I asked her a question, she nodded her head in agreement. I asked her the same question about re-opening the mine. She looked very sad and said, she doesn’t like to see the minere-opened. If the mine re-opens, she told me, they will spoil the land which she uses to plant the taro. I asked her: “What if they offer you money?” she says, “I don’t want money I want my land preserved.”
As the rain still continues and it makes it hard for me to take pictures of the mine pit after almost one year and 3 months since my last visit, my comrade the driver JM says we will go to the district office at Kavarong and interview the Meekamui hardliner Moses Pipiro. So we jumped into the truck and drove over.
We asked John Duni, one of the founders, and he told us that Mr Pipiro must be in his base or went to pan for gold up the river. We didn’t make any arrangement to see him so when we stopped near his base and I opened the door I saw a young girl looking down at us. I know that if we asked calling him Moses they would not tell us where he is, even though he is home. They will think that we are strangers, so I used the name he is called back home, when I asked the girl for him. She quickly says I will go and call him.
In few minutes he appeared and came to us and when he saw me he was full of smiles and put his hand out to shake mine. We told him why we are there and we drove to the other side of the buildings where on the ground women were selling ramputan or local lollies [fruits] and frying doughnuts. His secretary met us there and took us up to the second floor of the burned down 3 story building. To waste no time I turned on the camera and asked him about the issue of Panguna mine.
He told me that Panguna mine had been closed and will remain closed till Mekamui/Bougainville becomes an Independent Island Nation. He further stated: “When the leaders from Bougainville and PNG came to talk to me they returned and they spread their propaganda saying that I gave green light for the re-opening of the mine.” He says even though the landowners talk about it or if there is a referendum about the issue carried out from South to North and the majority says yes, it will remain closed, mining is not the issue, the issue now is Independence for our island. We fought for 1. To preserve our culture
2. To preserve our land
3. And for the betterment of our future generation.
The original demand still stands: that is PNG 10 billion Kina.
He told me that the landowners have no right to talk about the re-opening of the mine and those who talk about it live in Arawa and elsewhere. This bloody mine causes bloodshed to the people of this Island and it’s not a small issue.
Later after the interview I went downstairs and took some footage of the women and asked them the same question. All they say is no to mining, enough is enough, the land is for gardening not for mining.