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Payback time: Resolving the small miners` plight?

the Guardian (Tanzania)
August 24th, 2008

``They took our mines; evicted us forcibly using the support of government security personnel but today the same people are coming with a helping hand�it is amazing``.

These are the words of one of the small scale miners who attended the official launching of a project to develop artisan mining a week ago.

This small scale miner who declined to be named citing his personal involvement in this project adds, ``The idea is good but whether it will work is debatable.``

He is among thousands of small scale miners, whose livelihood was ruined by the foreign mining firms, some of which like Barrick are finally realizing the importance of this sector.

After evicting thousands of small scale miners in the Lake Victoria Gold Field, Barrick Tanzania, the country`s largest gold mine, is now paying back for its actions by launching a comprehensive plan aimed at developing small scale mining.

The company`s move comes just a year after it sealed a deal with the Tanzanian government that saw the Canadian mining giant taking over the lucrative Buzwagi gold mine, locking out about 600 small scale miners who had mined gold in the area for the past two decades.

The deal also comes amid the growing tension between the company and the evicted small scale miners in North Mara mine, who have been posing a serious security threat to Barrick's operations in the region.

For the first time, Barrick is publicly admitting that the large scale mining introduced in the country during the past decade ruined the livelihood of about half a million small scale miners in Tanzania.

According to Global Report on Small-Scale Mining issued in 2002, the most recent ILO research undertaken on a global scale estimates that 13 million people are engaged directly in small-scale mining activities, mainly in developing countries, and the livelihoods of a further 80-100 million people are affected by it.

The Project dubbed `transforming artisan mining into small scale mining operations around Barrick Gold mines in Tanzania`, was officially launched last Saturday in Dar es Salaam, in a colourful ceremony.

``Our mission is to have a sustainable small scale mining that creates job opportunities, protects the environment and operates professionally,`` says Deo Mwanyika, Barrick`s Executive General Manager.

According to the reports released by Barrick last week, artisan activities are generally unregulated, unfriendly to the environment, unconcerned for safety and tend to harbour criminal elements in most parts of the country.

Following the situation, as a responsible corporate citizen, Barrick Tanzania has embarked on the Artisan and Small Scale Mining (ASM) initiative to transform the sector into regulated, productive and responsible small-scale mining operations.

The company claims that, the transformation of the industry will be a life-long process that will require time-sensitive programmes and projects to be executed with pre-determined deliverables.

In order to achieve this, five key steps have been identified and will be carried out in the following sequence:According to Mr Mwanyika, as a community-driven initiative, the first step is to educate, inform and encourage participation by the community which will drive the transformation.

This process aims to impart ownership, patriotism and entrepreneurial skills to ensure there is a common sense of purpose.

The second stage will be to acquire land that will facilitate responsible mining facilities and waste containment, while the third stage will involve having a technology that is to be utilized�one that is safe, environmentally friendly, easy to operate and maintain.

Workers will need to be trained on how to operate the new technology.

Another stage is adequate funding of the operations to make them sustainable as businesses.

The last stage is project management whereby Barrick has made it clear that it is crucial to run the projects in a manner that will be accepted and supported by the government, communities as well as Barrick Tanzania.

Artisan mining activities in Tanzania date as far back as 1930.

Over the years, the industry has been and continues to be the livelihood of a large number of people in Tanzania.

But clouded by lack of modern mining technology, expertise and adequate working capital, small mining sector has become a deadly and dangerous business not only to its key stakeholders but to the country's development.

Whether described by the total number of people who have perished or the agonies they have faced during the past eight years, small scale miners have been facing the dark side of globalisation, with the state seeming to be hugging foreign miners who invest in large scale mining.

Since the introduction of large-scale mining in the country in early 1990s, there have been a number of conflicts between small-scale gold diggers and big miners causing bloody chaos in Tarime, Geita, Kagera region, Mererani and Kahama.

The worst conflict was that of August 1996 whereby about 50 small scale miners were allegedly buried alive by bulldozers of Kahama Mining Company Ltd under the supervision of Police Force and government authority in Shinyanga region.

According to the official report released by LEAT in 2002, by the end of 1997, there were about 400,000 small-scale miners mining gold in Lake Victoria gold belt but after the introduction of large mining activities, the number has dwindled to an average of 40,000.

Things did not end there. In Nyamongo gold mine, the clashes between the villagers and the police erupted in August 2001, after hundreds of small scale miners protested their eviction to pave the way for the construction of Afrika Mashariki Gold Mine.

In what was then described as restoring security in the area, the government deployed dozens of armed field force units, whereby a single policeman was being paid an allowance of Shs20, 000 per day.

Today after all these agonies, salvation is finally coming to small scale miners, thanks to the new project launched by Barrick at Southern Sun hotel last week.

However, the most disturbing question is why it has taken so long time for Barrick as well as the government to introduce a project aimed at sustaining small scale miners in Tanzania.

 

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