Kamituga | Digital Gold

This part of the Planet Digital exhibition goes beneath the surface of the mobile tech industry and focuses on the concrete challenges and living conditions of artisanal gold miners in the region of Kamituga (Democratic Republic of Congo). Cette partie de l‘exposition Planet Digital offre un aperçu des dessous de l‘industrie des technologies mobiles et se concentre sur les défis concrets et les conditions de vie des mineurs d‘or artisanaux dans la région de Kamituga (République démocratique du Congo). Tour en français.

Welcome Note to the Brothers and Sisters from Kamituga

Video 1: PhD candidate Gabriel Kamundala, Department of Geography, University of Zurich. Video by Alan Sahin, ZHdK ©2021

The Geography of Artisanal Gold Mining

The production of smartphones, tablets and computers is rising sharply – not least since the shift towards a «green» economy and society is predicated upon digitalization. These devices, however, do not work without the rare minerals used for their components. Gold is one of these precious minerals: About 7% percent of global gold is used for technological purposes. Among these are (laptop) computers, cameras and smartphones. These devices make use of gold as a chemically stable and exceptional conductor for their performative electronic circuits.

Despite its important contribution to the global digital economy, the gold business remains uneven and opaque. This is particularly problematic for global gold workers, around 80 percent of whom work in so-called artisan and small-scale mining in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Estimates vary greatly but overall, a total of 45 million workers across 60 countries are occupied in artisan and small-scale mining of different minerals. Goldmining entails about half the share of total workers. Between 10-50% are female and under-aged workers, with numbers varying widely across geographical areas. Women and children are usually occupied with the processing of the ore, while adult males are generally involved in digging it and control the mines. Around 150 million people around the world are estimated to be economically dependent on small-scale goldmining.

In the mines, accidents occur frequently and health conditions are poor due to exposure to mercury and dust. At the same time, mining provides an essential contribution to millions of livelihoods: artisan mining generates capital that is, in turn, invested into retail, real estate, restaurants and hotels and household consumption.

The irony of digital gold as an enabler and inhibitor of global privilege forms the central entry of the exhibition segment «Kamituga | Digital Gold». We invite visitors to look beneath the shiny surfaces of the mobile tech industry and engage with the concrete challenges and living conditions of artisanal miners. The visitors can follow the concrete stages of gold extraction and its global entanglements. On the other hand, we also have the opportunity to communicate with each other across distance through the use of digital technology. The visitors – and at the same time the small-scale miners in Kamituga – are invited to share their insights and perplexities in the Visitors' Comments of this website.

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Fig.1: Overview of a complete 3D model of a mine in Kamituga based on a 3D scan with a smartphone. The entrance is located on the left side. Images and and video further below show the subjective view during a virtual exploration. Screenshot, ZHdK ©2022

The Discomfort with Digital Technology

A fundamental question accompanied the interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of Geography (UZH) and the Immersive Arts Space (ZHdK) from the beginning: Does it make sense to use energy-intensive technology with a large demand for rare minerals and gold in order to depict and raise awareness of the issues accompanying the extraction of these very minerals? The chosen design of the exhibition emphasizes the contradictions and aims to make the resulting discomfort of the viewers the starting point of increased awareness.

The physical space of the exhibition embodies the tension between modes of display and the social and ecological impact of rare minerals extraction. In the middle of the space is a brightly lit display of smartphones and tablets, reminiscent of retail luxury. A circular corridor leads around the central space. From there, the visitors can enter smaller spaces where they may experience the reality of small-scale gold mining. Here, digital technology comes to the fore and blends into the spatial design.

The starting point for all digitally-based experiences are the photographs, videos and 3D scans that PhD candidate Gabriel Kamundala recorded in Kamituga in the summer of 2021 using a latest-generation smartphone. In this way, a ubiquitous device, itself containing gold and rare minerals, provides insights into the living conditions of artisanal mine workers and, at the same time, draws attention to the many challenges of the mobile tech industry.

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Pose tracking

Fig.2: View into a 3D model of a Kamituga mine based on a 3D scan with a smartphone.
Fig.3: The navigation in the 3D spaces is based on body tracking. Screenshots, GIF, ZHdK ©2022

With 3D scans and tracking, two aspects of new technology are highlighted in particular. Using the built-in scanner in his smartphone, Gabiel Kamundala was able to capture narrow mine tunnels and other spaces as digital 3D models. The scans serve as the basis for interactive, spatial experiences. The navigation required for this is based on body tracking. By moving their heads, visitors can move around the digital 3D space without having to rely on virtual reality goggles or other devices. At the same time, the simple tracking (without data storage) can raise awareness among the audience about increasingly omnipresent tracking methods.

In the circular corridor, visitors also encounter texts that draw their attention to the global context of the experiences they have just had. With the help of QR codes, they can also view supplementary information on their smartphones. Thus, awareness of both how our digitalized lives are dependent on rare minerals and of the problematic interrelation of supply chains in the mobile tech industry is promoted.


Video 2: Visitors can virtually explore the mine by moving forward and backward and looking around. With their right hand they control the virtual flashlight. Video simulation, ZHdK ©2022

Learn more about the global context

In the exhibition, visitors are confronted with texts that expand the context of the exhibition and show the global complexity of gold and rare minerals in the mobile tech industry. On the linked pages below, you will find the texts for the exhibition and a wide range of additional information:
Artisanal vs. Industrial Mining
Stigmatized Workers
How About Switzerland?
Livelihoods for Millions
What Can We Do?

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Fig.4-5: Salome Bitendanwa and Steve, artisanal mine workers in Kamituga. Photos: Gabriel Kamundala ©2021
Fig.6: Mulonda (right) talks to researcher Gabriel Kamundala (left). Photo by Alfred Bora-Uzima / ©2021.
Fig.7: Gabriel Kamundala (left) among minors of the Kamituga region, making interviews. Photo by Alfred Bora-Uzima ©2021

Visitors' Comments

Share your impressions, observations and questions on our visitors' comments page.

The Creators of Kamituga | Digital Gold

Department of Geography, University of Zurich:
Research, interviews, 3D scans, videos, photographs: Gabriel Kamundala, Department of Geography, UZH
Supervision and textual content: Dr. Timothy Raeymaekers, Department of Geography, UZH,
Dr. Muriel Côte, Associate senior lecturer, Department of Human Geography, University of Lund

Research partners:
University of Zimbabwe
University of Ouagadougou I
Institut National des Sciences des Sociétés (Burkina Faso)
Groupe d’Etudes sur les Conflits et la Sécurité Humaine (DR CONGO)

Immersive Arts Space, Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK:
Scenography: Mariana Vieira Gruenig
Interaction Design, 3D Experience: Chris Elvis Leisi
Spatial Augmented Reality Engineer: Florian Christoph Bruggisser
Video editing, storytelling: Alan Sahin
Sound design: Patrycja Pakiela
Additional on location audio recordings: Alfred Borauzima
Translation, proofreading: Alliance Riziki Murhula, Edward Wright
Voice over: Shabnam Chamani, Rino Hosennen
Chief technician: Sébastien Schiesser
Production manager: Kristina Jungic
Project lead: Prof. Christian Iseli

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