Tanzania: Environmental Mess in Mines

Nzega/Namungo — Twenty four kilometers from Nzega Urban, on the left side of the Shinyanga Highway, lies Mwaluzilo Village in Lusu Ward, Nzega District.

At least 12,000 residents of the village survive on subsistence farming, mostly rice, which they depend on food and business to supplement household incomes.

On the way to the village from the Old Nzega Road you come across old farms and dry rice fields, stretching several kilometres ahead of Mwaluzilo.

Life has changed for these people. Since 2014, the main water streams which they heavily depended on for irrigation are no longer channelling water to their farms.

The village representative and Lusu Ward councillor, Mr Musa Seleli, says the streams that fed the fields were cut since 2014 and diverted to the mine pits. He was then chairman of Mwaluzilo Village.

The mine pits belonged to former Resolute Mining which now operates under Madini Institute (mineral resources institute). The closure of the mine has left open at least four large mining pits.

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According to Mr Seleli, the streams were diverted to the pit number two which is connected with pits number one and seven.

By observation, a diameter of one pit is at least three football play grounds and a depth that you only see a person as an ant in the bottom of it. It took about 10 to 20 minutes walking around the pit number 5 which is the smallest.

Mr Seleli says since 2014 rice farming has been sluggish at the areas because there is no sufficient water to feed the fields.

At least 100 young people are seen around the pit number 5. These are illegal small scale miners. Some of them told The Citizen they had come there from Mwaluzilo Village to find cheap labour in the mines.

Juma Samuel, 27, says going for cheap labor in the mines is the only option he has. "I earn between Sh2,000 or Sh3,000 per day to feed my family. When we grew up, we used to plant rice in these areas because there was plenty of water. Today, all that is history," says Mr Samuel. He says previously they engaged in the farming of vegetables and many other crops using irrigation.

"My parents and I survived only by farming in these areas but today we are forced to come here and do cheap labour because we don't have money to invest in small-scale mining," he says.

Another resident is Mr Musa Joseph, 28, who says since 2014 they only managed to farm rice in the field during the 2016 rainy season that caused floods.

What mine owners say

The Principal of the Madini Institute that has its main campus in Dodoma and its Nzega campus, Frederick Mangasini said the pits were left open for practical studies by students of the institute.

This is after the closure of Resolute's Golden Pride Mine late 2013. As agreed with the government, the mining sites and all the remaining infrastructure were formally handed over to the Madini Institute in December 2014 to pave the way for the establishment of a mining institute.

"Apart from using them (the pits) for studies, the plan is to let water fill the pits until they become large dams that will be used by residents for irrigation purposes and aquaculture," said the official.

He has refuted claims that the streams that fed rice fields were cut off, saying the waters that were entering the pits were rainwater.

The National Environmental Management Council (Nemc) is not aware of Resolute mine problems but has promised to work on the matter. Nemc's managing director, Dr Samuel Gwamaka, says every project, depending on its location and size, has its closing plan.

"Closing plan is in the Environmental Impact Assessment and every project depending on where it is, whether in the middle of a forest or close to a river".

According to him, if a company fails to adhere to the closing plan, Nemc will deal with them, "We will follow them wherever they are and hold them responsible," he said.

Commenting on the situation of the closed Resolute mine, the Nemc director said: "If you have information on that, report it, Tanzania has many projects. If we hear about that we will work on it".

What is there for Acacia- North Mara

North Mara is one of the biggest mines in Tanzania, which, since 2006, has been operated by London-listed Acacia Mining.

For the past two decades it has been at the centre of recurrent disputes with people living close to it over allegations of environmental pollution.

Tarime Rural MP John Heche said since 1998 the environmental pollution has been a big question to villages around the mine.

"The government and even Parliament have sent at least five committees to come here and work on the environmental problem--you remember the Ndugai committee on natural resources and others, all those had been there to assess the environmental damage," he says.

According to the MP, water, air and noise pollutions from explosions have badly affected residents of the areas surrounding the mine.

Mr Heche is blaming the problems on the Mining Act which allows citizens to own only surface area in the rich mining areas and not what is underneath.

He faulted another part of the law which set 200 metres where the mine operated from human settlements.

Our survey shows that residents of Nyabichuna Village, for instance, live less than 200 meters. Some houses are less than two metres from the mining wall.

Some villagers were caught while searching for pieces of gold contained in discarded waste rock from the mines.

Mwita Maswi, 44, has been suffering from a broken leg for ten years. Although he is now able to walk, he is no longer able to do any hard work.

"Ten years ago, three friends and I went in a mining site to look for granules of gold among the waste rock when security guards at the mine threw huge stone on us, my two friends escaped but the stone hit and broke my legs," alleges Mr Maswi.

Juma Bokobora, 27, was also a victim of the frequent confrontations between security guards at the mining sites and nearby villagers.

He suffered a similar fate to Mr Maswi and he is now walking on artificial legs.

The village chairman, Mr Lyoba Nyaika, told The Citizen that their village is in great danger. "My people are suffering from humiliations. We don't have fish in the river, no clean water, the mine is close to their settlements, that's too risky," he says.

Mr Nyaika calls for the government to compensate and help resettle his people to other areas.

Government speaks out

The minister for Minerals, Doto Biteko, says the government is aware of the problems facing the villagers. "If the miner found people in the areas they were supposed to compensate and resettle them first before starting their activities," he says.

The minister promised to work on the issue to establish whether the villagers were compensated.

More about North Mara

On July 22, 2019 Nemc has suspended the use of tailings storage facility at North Mara after samples taken from the facility found that it was leaking poisonous chemical waste. Dr Gwamaka said the decision was made after the company failed to control leaking chemicals, a threat to environment and communities surrounding the mine.

Nemc's decision was made together with the office of the mining commission and the office of the Chief Government Chemist.The government's directive comes few weeks after the mine was fined Sh5.6 billion for leaking contaminated water into residential areas and rivers and a three-week ultimatum to correct some of the weaknesses, which were identified in its sewage infrastructure.

This was after an investigation carried out by the Nemc and the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM).

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