By Isaiah Mombilo
Edited by Leona Morgan with permission
Editor’s note: The Congolese Civil Society of South Africa (CCSSA) is a non-governmental organization based in Cape Town, South Africa with a mission of “Uniting all Congolese and all African[s] living in South Africa under one umbrella regardless of their ethnic, religious or political origin, country and views.” This summer, CCSSA held its annual event called “The Missing Link” which is aimed at telling the world the story of Shinkolobwe uranium mine, a deliberately erased but essential part of the Manhattan Project. This year’s hybrid event featured local speakers, music and dance as well as presenters from around the world, including Haruko Moritaki from Hiroshima.
The CCSSA commemorated the 78th anniversary of the tragic end of the Second World War on Sunday, July 30, 2023.
This end was happy in that it marked the culmination of five years of combat and hostility; however, the victory of one camp shocked the collective human conscience following the disastrous bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
Everything seems to have been said about this atrocious war and the start of the nuclear arms race, and yet, nearly eight decades later, an important part of the story still remains unknown, if not hidden. This is what the CCSSA has been fighting to reveal and enshrine in the official narrative for eight years now through an annual event titled, “The Missing Link.”
This year’s event consisted of several parts starting with paying tribute to the memory of all the Japanese victims of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A candle was lit and a minute of silence was held in their memory.
There were talks about the bomb and its impacts, testimonies from victims and descendants of victims who survived and became anti-nuclear activists. There were presentations about the Shinkolobwe uranium mine with its uniquely rich uranium ore deposit of 65 percent [today, mines are often 2 percent or less], and about the route this uranium took throughout the Manhattan Project.
Lastly, there were testimonies from Indigenous Peoples fighting nuclear impacts in the United States and India, followed by a message from CCSSA Vice-chairperson Joe-Yves Salankang Sa Ngol entitled “Shinkolobwe: A City That Doesn’t Exist.”
Salankang Sa Ngol explained why the name “Shinkolobwe” does not appear anywhere in the official World War II narrative.
First, the U.S. Americans and Belgians had this small village removed not only from the narrative, but also from the map of the Congo to prevent their German adversaries from knowing where the precious uranium was located. Secondly, these two countries did not want to be held responsible for the mass crimes committed during the extraction of the uranium. Congolese were sent into the depths of the mine to extract this dangerous ore without any appropriate protective equipment. They extracted, sorted, transported and loaded it without protection, and its highly radioactive waste was abandoned in the open air for years. No concrete action has been taken to dismantle the mine’s remaining infrastructure, to clean up the site, or even to complete an assessment of the radiation risks to surrounding populations.
This year, the gathering of voices from several continents, from both the point of origin of the Shinkolobwe uranium and its final resting place, is proof that gradually the world is learning of this missing link.
Together, let’s work for a denuclearized and healthy world.