21 July 2014

Tanzania: Tension As Investor, Small Miners Locked in Row

TENSION is high at Magambazi in Handeni District, Tanga Region where small scale miners have refused to vacate a gold mine which was recently acquired by a Tanzanian registered Canadian firm, Canaco Tanzania Limited. Our Staff Writer CHABY BARASA visited the area recently and reports..

SIFUNI Laizer (not his real name) goes to work every day not sure whether he would be able to return to his makeshift grass and plastic thatched hut he has called home for the past five years. Mr Laizer routinely walks about two kilometres from his home to the site where he conducts his activities, namely mining gold at Magambazi Hill, some 30 kilometres from Handeni, in Tanga Region.

Uncertainty about his future notwithstanding, the 41 year-old, father of two and originally from Arusha is in a defiant mood and not prepared to surrender just yet. He and about 400 other artisanal miners now operating at Magambazi do so without licences. Indeed, they could be living on borrowed time.

An ultimatum for them to leave was issued last year. Despite having no licences, a situation that has seen them live in fear, Mr Laizer and fellow miners have vowed to defy the directive to leave unless their interests are taken care of, including compensation by Canaco Tanzania Limited that has acquired a licence to operate in the area.

"It is true, we don't have mining licences but most people here had been operating in this area long before Canaco's arrival, so they are not prepared to just leave without meaningful compensation," he observes. He would not reveal exactly how much the small scale miners would like to be paid as compensation, but lamented that they had been given a raw deal by authorities in awarding a licence to the Tanzanian registered Canadian firm without consulting them.

During a recent visit to Magambazi, this reporter could feel the tense atmosphere reigning in the area, where the artisanal miners evidently are in a combative mood against any 'intruders'. Literally on standby, the miners have an efficient information sharing network such that any person from outside the mining community would be accosted immediately and questioned aggressively about their motives of being in the area.

"We don't want to be ambushed or taken by surprise by whoever comes to evict us, so everyone in this community plays the role of an informer," says Laizer. This reporter was given a taste of this intelligence system during the investigation and was routinely subjected to an interrogation, which at times turned hostile.

The artisanal miners have vowed to fight tooth and nail to resist eviction unless their conditions are met, and have slammed district and government authorities as well as the media allegedly for siding with the 'investor'.

Mr Fulgence Massawe from the Legal and Human Rights Centre who represents the small scale miners in the case in which Canaco seeks their eviction, claims that the source of the conflict is the investor who is alleged to have colluded with some people from Magambazi area and acquired a mining licence over the area with small scale miners.

"To say which side has the right to operate the area it can be prejudicial to the matter in court. Since I am representing the small scale miners I believe the procedures were not followed in acquisition of the area including consultation and compensation," claims Mr Massawe in an email.

He says the conflict could have been avoided if the small scale miners were involved in the process or even divide the area like it is the case in Mererani between TanzaniteOne and small scale miners. "We are at the final pre-trial conference as mediation has failed.

Soon the hearing will start," he noted. However, Handeni District's mining office insists that all the artisanal miners at Magambazi operate illegally. "We have earmarked another area for them at Handeni and Kilindi, but they still would not leave Magambazi," said a senior mining officer.

He reveals that the mining area reserved to small scale miners named Handeni and Kilindi demarcated areas extends from the two Tanga districts and borders Mvomero and Bagamoyo districts in Morogoro and Coast Regions respectively. He says geological surveys have proved that the same 'gold bearing rock' found at Magambazi extends to the area reserved for the small scale miners.

He notes that more than 1000 licences have been issued to small scale miners wishing to operate in the newly demarcated area. He however points out that majority of the miners at Magambazi had acquired licences in the newly demarcated area but were still reluctant to move.

He also revealed that the use of mercury to amalgamate gold and wanton felling of trees for fuel to heat rocks so that they are easy to crush, was rife in the area. "All these are having a negative impact on the environment. Indeed past efforts to raise the miners' awareness about the issue have not borne fruits," he noted, admitting that the 'siege mentality' displayed by the miners was not helping matters either.

A recent visit to the area also established that the small scale miners were living 'dangerously' with no dispensaries or clean and safe water services in the vicinity. Handeni District Commissioner Muhingo Rweyemamu says the miners at Magambazi were wasting their opportunities by operating without licences.

"Their peers elsewhere have benefited with loans and other forms of assistance from the government after acquiring licences and registering themselves in groups," he explains. He says district authorities' efforts to convince the miners to vacate Magambazi and formalize their activities at their demarcated site have been futile.

"It has been very frustrating at times when you try to point out all the advantages the artisanal miners stand to benefit by simply acquiring licences and forming groups and yet none of them take heed," he observes. He admits that the situation is tense at Magambazi but hits out at what he called 'bad elements' among the small scale miners who have allegedly been influencing others to defy government directives to leave.

He adds that as Canaco had sought court redress over the matter, district authorities could only wait and hope, for the best so that Handeni would start enjoying collection of taxes and other forms of benefits from gold mining, which the miners currently operating at Magambazi, were not paying. (continues on Tuesday)

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