Next Saturday, 6 August, will mark the 77th anniversary of the US bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
These two attacks would affect not only the collective memory of the Japanese people, but of the entire world. The nuclear material bombs, a dreadful part of the Second World War, revealed the horror of the atomic destructive power of the world powers and the attack became one of the greatest tragedies in human history.
But what is not well known is how the preparations for the attack on the Japanese cities resulted in thousands more civilian victims in the Congo, more precisely in the region of the Shinkolobwe mine, officially closed in 1960.
It was from this location that the United States extracted the uranium used in the bombs that killed more than 240,000 civilians in the Japanese cities. Congolese people worked in this mine who did not even know what kind of material they were handling. The consequences of this work have been perpetuated by generations, who still suffer congenital problems due to contact with the material’s radiation.
In addition, the mine polluted the entire area, affecting the soil and water sources, dumping up to 20% of the uranium for months at a time in a region where rain is abundant, with miners’ buildings made of radioactive materials.
This macabre and missing link between the two countries is unknown and the reason for this can be understood when one analyses the political and historical context, as the Congolese activist and academic member of the CCSSA (Congolese Civil Society of South Africa), Yves Salankang says: “For the US and its allies, this information was very important, because they did not want their opponents to know the origin of this important and such high quality ore, so as to prevent them from also having access to the material.”
Every year, the organisation of which the Congolese activist is a member holds a public debate as a protest, which recalls the historic event and brings to the surface the link between two populations that suffered the cruel consequences of this nuclear attack. This year, with the theme “Human dignity beyond techno-scientific progress”, the event will take place in Cape Town at Gardens Commercial High School on 6 August.
Salankang says the main objectives of the event are to remember the victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the undocumented and forgotten victims of uranium radiation in Congo, to denounce the missing link between the victims of Hiroshima-Nagasaki and those of Shinkolobwe, to create awareness about the correct and just narrative of the Second World War, including all victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear radiation, and to seek support and solidarity for the recognition of Shinkolobwe in world historical discourse.