Geita, Tanzania - In northwest Tanzania, less than a kilometre away from a sprawling open pit gold mine, hundreds of people are engaged in a complex and arduous task. While young men emerge from deep pits equipped with hammers, picks and torches, women pound large chunks of grey rock into smaller pieces for further processing into the mineral which brings in Tanzania's largest source of foreign investment: gold.
Magema, within the village of Nyamalembo, is one of the last remaining strongholds of artisanal and small-scale miners in the Geita area. But they are not officially allowed to be here. The land that stretches for more than 196 square kilometres around the Geita Gold Mine is occupied by AngloGold Ashanti, one of the world's largest gold mining companies. The miners say they were given an eviction notice to vacate the area in early May.
"When Geita Gold Mine arrived 13 years ago, we small-scale miners were carrying on our work as usual at another mining site," said Raban Masunga as he turns off the torch strapped around his head. "But now, the hills have been sold. The land has been sold. Everything has been sold to the company. This is the only place left for us and we can be evicted any day."
Before multinational mining companies arrived in Tanzania, the mining of minerals was largely conducted by small-scale miners. A report from February 2013 by the International Institute for Environment and Development states that globally, small-scale mining employs 10 times more people than large-scale mining.
In Tanzania, it is estimated that large-scale mining may have made upward of 400,000 people unemployed, contributing to further impoverishing the rural poor in a country that already ranks among the 10 poorest in the world.
Scavenging for gold
N’gombe Lukala Kadaso said after the mine was built, residents of Nyakabale realised that proceeds from mining were not going back to the community. Many like him took to scavenging waste rock.
"The way I work is I pound the rock, then I look back to see if the company's cruiser is coming," he said. "If it's there, I have to run. People have been beaten, had their legs broken, some were disabled. Others lost their lives near the mining site. There is no justice, but we must make a living somehow."
One year ago, 17-year old Mhoja Leonard was reportedly searching for waste material at AngloGold Ashanti's mine when he was shot and killed by a security guard. His father, Leonard Salala, said he has received nothing in compensation from the company for the "cold blood murder" of his son, save for 10 kilos of rice, a bag of meat, and some water.
"The company agreed to cover the burial costs, but said we would discuss further compensation. Since then I have heard nothing," he said. "They are not supposed to kill people. There is a court of law."
| Leonard Salala said his son was shot and killed by a mine guard [Al Jazeera]
In a letter to Salala, AngloGold Ashanti said it was not liable for the death of his son. In a statement to reporters, the company said the company said its security, is "outsourced to a company named Group 4 Securicor ("G4S") and the security officials involved in the incident were working for G4S and not for Geita Gold Mine (GGM)." It added that Mhoja Leonard was nowhere near the waste dump area, but rather "had made an unauthorised entry intrusion" into the "GGM Heavy Mining Equipment workshop".
“AngloGold Ashanti expresses deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Mr Hoja Leonard. The death of anyone on our concession is something we take very seriously," the company said.
"GGM conducted two thorough internal investigations into the death of Mr Hoja Leonard and we understand a G4S employee remains in police custody pending a hearing about the matter..." the statement added. "We can confirm that engagement with G4S has taken place regarding Mr Leonard’s death... GGM [Geita Gold Mine] has further enhanced its control mechanisms relating to a reduction in the use of firearms and the use of rubber bullets."
Some miners claim that numerous people were recently killed, and their bodies thrown into into Nyankanga dam, a dam located on the mine’s lease area. According to AngloGold Ashanti, there were 24 third party fatalities in 2012, "many of which were the result of unsafe illegal mining methods, including void collapses ... further fatalities were the result of drowning in the Nyankanga Dam".
As for those in the mine dumps, the company said such people are "intruders and trespassers" that "enter the waste rock area and other areas, often with a criminal intent and despite knowing the dangers, and this poses a significant risk to their own safety".
As a result, the company said it would undertake a number of measures to develop an Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Strategy. However, no land within the concession's 196 square km could be considered for small-scale miners, according to AngloGold Ashanti’s executive vice president for the African region, Richard Duffy.
"We cannot afford to have artisanal and illegal mining in the existing areas, so we are looking for areas adjacent to or close by the lease area," Duffy said in a telephone interview.
While AngloGold Ashanti claims its inability to grant land within the concession to small-scale miners has to do with security risks, corporate finance consultant and co-chairman of African Eagle Resources, Euan Worthington, said profit gains are also a factor.
"A company is there to make money. If they gave a piece of land to the locals and it turned out to be a bonanza, they would look very stupid in the eyes of their shareholders," Worthington said. "And you don't want to be in the news for having an accident or pictures of people clambering all over your property."
Although small-scale miners are not allowed to remain within the concession area, Duffy said the company’s presence in the area has benefited communities in other ways.
“We are committed to using local employees and local supplies. We are currently completing our portion of a $10m water project in partnership with the Tanzanian government,” he said. “We run a school at Geita and support an orphanage …We certainly try and make a positive contribution. We understand that our being there has had an impact, and we try to minimise the negative impacts of that.”
The David and Goliath-like battle between large multinational mining companies and small-scale artisanal miners and scavengers is not unique to Geita. At least 14 people were killed in the past three years in Tanzania’s North Mara mine, which is run by African Barrick Gold and 74 percent owned by Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation.
Increasing reports of human rights violations by mining companies the world over have elicited outrage among campaigners, particularly in the United Kingdom, where a number of mining companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
"This investor, I would ask him to think about us here near the gold mine. This is our home, not his."
- N’gombe Lukala Kadaso
In response to queries about AngloGold Ashanti's human rights record, Duffy said the company acts accordingly.
"We investigate any and all allegations of human rights violations. We take those very seriously and operate in accordance with the UN voluntary principles of human rights. One of our core values is that the communities should benefit from our being there, and human rights is a core part of that."
The company suggested that “any member of the community with credible evidence or information relating to fatalities or security and human rights violations on site to formally contact the Tanzania Police Service for further investigation."
The Tanzanian Commissioner of Minerals did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
AngloGold Ashanti, like many companies, subscribes to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR), a set of voluntary principles established in the year 2000 that assist companies in providing security for their operations while also promoting human rights. The VPSHR have been criticised by organizations like Global Witness for being vague and hard to enforce.
Campaigners from the London Mining Network want the UK government to enforce stricter oversight upon companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, and to bring forward legislation that is internationally binding.
Until then, the struggle between companies such as AngloGold Ashanti and Tanzania’s small-scale miners and waste-rock collectors continues. The people of Nyakabale remain outraged at what they perceive as ongoing injustices by both the company and the Tanzanian government, which they accuse of corruption and complicity.
Kadaso, the waste-rock collector from Nyakabale, said he believes the kinds of abuses he has witnessed would never occur in the West.
"This investor, I would ask him to think about us here near the gold mine," he said. “This is our home, not his. If I took my property and invested in his home, as a white man he would never tolerate the same kind of treatment he gives me as a citizen of Tanzania.”