The sand “looters” of Cape Verde

The sand “looters” of Cape Verde

The sand “looters” of Cape Verde

Ribeira da Barca beach is not mentioned in Cape Verde guides. No more than that of Rincao or Cancelo. These three beaches of Santiago, the main island of the archipelago, are missing. And in Cape Verdean memory, we don’t remember the last time we saw a tourist’s towel there. The huge mounds of black sand, the mounds of pebbles, the craters, the coming and going of trucks on the track cut halfway up: the landscape is more reminiscent of a quarry or an open-cast mine. Far from the paradisiacal postcard of expanses of white sand as far as the eye can see and the emerald waters of Sal and Boa Vista, the two popular destinations of this little piece of Africa that bathes in the Atlantic, off the coast of Senegal.

Women go back and forth between the sea and the beach to collect and transport sand, on the beach of Ribeira da Barca, in the island of Santiago (Cape Verde), in June 2022.
Each in turn, they sink into the sea, in Ribeira da Barca (Cape Verde), on June 15, 2022.

In Ribeira da Barca, as in Rincao or Cancelo, the “minors” have one thing in common: they are almost all women. In Cape Verde they are known as i “thieves” where is the “looters” sand. An illegal practice tolerated by the authorities. Slave labor that allows them to survive by reselling their booty at bargain prices to intermediaries in the construction sector. Here, no dredger or mechanical shovel. Their only tools: a bucket and their whole body.

This June morning, ten of them jump into the water and go back and forth with the bucket on their heads. After years of mining, “black gold” becomes rare; we have to go deeper and deeper into the sea, so much so that today two men came to lend a hand. Standing waist-deep in the water, the two boys frantically fill the buckets with shovels. Women squat as much as possible to make life easier for them. Sand and water drip on their faces. The maneuver is as demanding as it is dangerous. Most cannot swim. You have to resist the waves, fight against the current, then go up the shore and its pebbles that slip away under your feet. Up to 40 kg per bucket, only backed byordija, the traditional turban twisted on the head by African women to carry everything that would seem impossible to others. Sand thieves are tightrope walkers, not one do not fall.

On the shore, the mound of volcanic sand grows with the rhythm of the rotations. Later, a truck will pick him up. “Cape Verde para todos” : The victorious party’s red 2021 presidential campaign t-shirt equips several workers. With half a sheet of metal, they scrape off the huge black mass to fill their bucket and then carry it, always on their heads, always in single file, onto the truck. The overturned beer crates serve as a step to reach the dumpster. This has a capacity of about three tons, so three “galuchos”, from the Portuguese manufacturer’s brand, in the language of the sand collectors. The pile is higher than the women. It’s hot, the sun is burning.

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