Aerial photography campaigns have led to the discovery, in the early years of the twentieth century, an old mine: dozens of large and deep excavations at high mineral density. An archaeological work establishes with certainty that this area was an important mine since the seventh century. In part, then, the prosperity of the ruling dynasties of Morocco, their trade and monetary exchange with Africa, derives just from this silver mine since many centuries. It was at this mine that Idriss I coined the first silver coin of the kingdom.
Mining intensive activity in Imider resumed in 1969. In the early years the work of the Bureau of Mineral Research e Participations BRMP (currently ONHYM: a government office that acts in the mining sector) has focused primarily on the recovery of these excavations. The office then began a campaign of research that led to the discovery of large reserves of mineral and since 1978 is also practiced underground mineral extraction.
The Imider mine is the first in Morocco and in Africa and the ninth in the world, with an average production of 240 tons of silver with a purity of 99.5%, ready for export to Europe.
Aware of the future environmental and social damage resulting by the exploitation of water resources by industry, the population of the Imider Municipality (men, women and children) held a series of demonstrations against the digging of a well from the Bureau of Mineral Research and Participations BRPM. The well would have been used to supply the water needs of the mining establishment, endangering the agricultural sector.
The people’s representatives (elected and responsible of the territory) state the disagreement with the digging of new wells, but the mine’s officials don’t take them into account. The authorities, to resolve this problem, imprisoned without a hearing or trial six farmers for a month.
Following this repression, the damage continues. From 1986 onwards there are environmental damages with serious consequences to the local economy: the shortage of water damages cultivated fields, olive trees die and many fruit trees such as apricot, almond and fig disappear. Those who live too close to the mine are dispossessed of their land. Many sheeps are found dead, poisoned by toxic waste from the mine.
In 1996, the SMI was privatized and the mining group Managem, a subsidiary of Société Nationale d’Investissement (SNI) has purchased the 36.07% stake, bringing its holding from 67% to 80% of the capital in 1997.
The Movement on the Road also refers in his name to the sit-in lasted 45 days that we, the inhabitants of Imider’s seven villages, organized in 1996 on National Road #10. The sit-in of ’96 came to an end with the violent repression by the local authorities.
On March 10, 1996 at 7 am a great number of auxiliary forces overwhelms the tents under which were the protesters.
This violent intervention leaves many of them wounded and 23 militants, including two women, were arrested and presented in court on the charge of “revolutionary rally in order to attack the authorities”. 16 of them were released after police custody, six imprisoned for 1 or 2 years. One of them, Lahcen Usbddan, tortured in prison, strangely died at his home a few days after he was released because of the mistreatments. It should be noted that all the tents and property things on the sit-in site were confiscated.
2004: mobilization against the thirst
In 2004, after the exploration of Iwdran mountains, a few kilometers from the processing establishment, the SMI has decided to dig a new well on the depth of 40 meters to provide additional water to the mine, in violation of the law 10-95 on the exploitation of drinking water and implementing an illegal drilling of the Tidsa well (North-East from the village center), since the Targuit well was no longer sufficient to support the increase in production.
Following the entry into operation of the new well, we saw at Imider drastically reduce the access to potable water, up to total interruption: the mine, indeed, uses more than 1383 cubic meters of water per day, a quantity twelve times higher than the daily consumption of all the local community inhabitants.
For their part, representatives of collective land are systematically excluded from meetings and agreements of public interest, despite the legitimacy of their task and they have never done a resignation or be exempted from the exercise of their function of collective defense of the land of that belongs to the people.
When the ground water for the people and for the Khettarat (traditional irrigation system) was threatened by overexploitation and illegal drilling by the SMI in the region of Tidsa (North-East from the town center) to supply water the mine through a channel with capacity of 24L/S and a tank of 1383 m2, started the “phenomenon of the thirst”.
We, the inhabitants of Imider, supported by the Municipal Council, have resumed the struggle after the heavy damage to the Khettarat, caused by the abuse and illegal groundwater since 2004. The valves were closed for the mine and were forbidden to subcontractors the access to the mine for a tense week.
The Imider’s elected representatives had a meeting with the “Group Managem” representatives at the headquarters in Province of Ouarzazate, chaired by the Governor and in presence of a Parliament member. This meeting brought only empty promises and had the only effect the suspension of all our struggle’s forms.
2011: Movement on the Road ‘96
In early summer, returning from the University of Errachidia, Marrakech and Agadir, Imider students asked for a seasonal job in the silver mine.
As every year, the SMI took over a fortnight, but this time the excluded people did not hesitate to express their anger and expressing their displeasure in front of Imider Municipality.
The straw that broke the camel, however, came a few weeks later, when we saw decrease the distribution of drinking water, up to the complete interruption: a few weeks before the Ramadan, the tap water in homes flowed just thirty minutes a day.
Were at first students and unemployed to lead the protest, but soon were joined by all the other inhabitants, tired now of their unsustainable condition. Together we decided to make a daily “march of thirst” from the town center until the silver mine entrance.
On August 1, 2011 we decided to undertake a “march of thirst” and, faced with the refusal of the ONA-SNI to dialogue with us, we have radicalized the protest: we occupied the top of Albban Mount where was the main pumping station of water, blocking the functioning.
In those eventful days was born the Movement on the Road ’96 and was elected the Dialogue Committee.
The reaction of the authorities to our protest had been, as in the past, ambivalent: it was not a massive repression, but began a sequence of targeted arrests and personal intimidations, alternated with openings “for facade” dictated by the need to restore the full capacity of mining.
The government attempted to weaken the Movement of protest arbitrarily arresting activists with unfounded accusations. Deep indignation aroused the arrest, on October 5, 2011, of Mustafa Ouchtoubane, 27 years old, worker of the mine and activist of the Movement on the Road 96, on charges – never proved – of having stolen 18 grams of silver from the mine. Mustafa, after a show trial, has been sentenced to four years in prison.
2011 is also the year in which formally begins the Imider student’s strike in support of the protest Movement of the adults and for the recognition of their right to education.
2012: the placebo protocol and the student’s black year
Students of all levels in the rural community of Imider began a strike in 2011, in support of the wider protest Movement and to claim the right to study.
The school life of our sons and daughters is very hard: lacking of transportation facilities to reach the educational structures and a severe shortage of appropriate didactical materials. This condition prevents many girls and boys to continue their studies.
In the 2011-2012 school year the students went on open strike, next to their parents and their families, to claim their right to a quality education under appropriate and favorable for all conditions.
However, the negligence of the authorities and the lack of responsibility by the government institutions rendered this year of strike very hard for the students: was not put in place any accompanying measure alternative to the lessons, they were simply left to themselves.
The Ministry of Education officially announced at the end of the school year, in June 2012, a “white year” for elementary and middle-upper students: they lost a year with no chance of recovery. A “black year” – and not white – in the history of our Municipality and a shame for the educational institutions that acted in an irresponsible silence.
In November 2012, with the patent intention of wanting to elude the rights of the Imider people, the Managem hastened to sign an agreement with some elements of the Municipal Council, people with personal interests from the mining company SMI. The signing of this so-called “placebo protocol” took place at the headquarters of Tinghir Province on November 19, 2012, with the blessing of the regional authorities.
The Committee of Dialogue – the unique representative of the population for discussing all problems – is excluded from this meeting, so they expressed their disagreement with the contents of the protocol, which didn’t take into due consideration the population’s demands and their will. Furthermore, they emphasized that there was a petition that legitimized an appropriate commission to conduct negotiations with Managem.
This “placebo protocol” was supported by unprecedented media coverage by Managem Group, even identifying it as “the product of previous dialogues”, essentially ignoring the legitimacy of a committee appointed by the people.
The Imider’s adults residents signed a petition against the contents of the “placebo protocol» of Tinghir: were collected more than 1967 signatures. This is the synthesis of the petition:
- Review of concepts “rehabilitation” and “contribution” by setting or specifying time limits, amounts or percentages of contributions and partners;
- Treatment of judicial file and land occupying by SMI which they never been discussed during the 15 meetings of dialogue;
- Discussion about the way in which compensate people disadvantaged by the activities of the silver mine;
- Lack of a clear formula for the mine able to regulate the use of water resources, both in terms of the well “Targuit” and the drilling of “Tidsa”;
- The Mining company didn’t want to give to unemployed people of the Municipality the opportunity to enter the mine with a simple job and cover part of their families’ needs;
- Lack of some items that had been proposed in previous dialogue.
Afterwards, we have repeatedly reiterated that we all believe in the justice of our cause and in the legitimacy of our claims, pointing out that any attempt to elude our demands is a waste of time and effort and also a complication of the situation. Therefore, we have continued the peaceful struggle to achieve our rights, condemning all the threats against us and the attempts to discredit our image.
We’ve always invited representatives of the company in a wise and responsible behavior and to return to the negotiating table to continue the dialogue, seeking together a solution able to satisfy all the sides, including the public interest, and to preserve the rights of the local population.
During these years the Movement on the Road ’96 has continued the permanent sit-in on the occupied top of Albban Mount, has led the General Assemblies (Agraw) and the periodic peaceful demonstrations in order to express our desire and our willingness to change from in unsustainable life situation. The silver mine is poisoning our lifestyle and our existence, it threatens our survival and our land through water and air pollution, through disease and repression of our demands with the silence and the constant intimidations by the authorities.
At the same time, the policies of marginalization and exclusion still continue without change and more and more aggressive and negligent against the protesters of the Movement, in an attempt to break the spirit of struggle and the continuity of the sit-in.
We’re still fighting… and we will never give up.