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Tarime killings: The inside story

by George Maratothe Guardian (Tanzania)
May 22nd, 2011

Breach of trust within the unholy trinity comprising the police, company staff and youngsters pinning their livelihood on proceeds from the sale of gold concentrates, has emerged as the source of the high tension between North Mara Gold Mine and the neighbouring Nyamongo locality.

Gold concentrate is a sandy material which contains a certain amounts of gold, which could be obtained after undergoing an industrial process.

The tension exploded into last Monday’s battle that led to five civilians being killed, hundreds others being gravely injured, and the area being cast into a mournful, hostile mood.

Information gathered by The Guardian on Sunday suggests that thieving operations would have been smooth if all members of the trinity kept their part of the bargain, and no conflicts would have been witnessed within and around the African Barrick Gold-owned firm over the past five years.

Conflicts have arisen, though, because some of the conspirators seek to short-change colleagues, prompting tempers to flare as a consequence.

Sources say police and company staff conspire to facilitate illegal entry into the premises to scoop sand with gold concentrates, in exchange for money that they share under a yet-to-be-establish formula.

On-and-off, however, due to greed, disagreements occur on the formula, as well as hikes in facilitation fees by the insiders for the outsiders, who complain that that amounts to breach of contract.

Ensuing war of words turn into confrontations that provoke policemen to fire at the very people who had been co-conspirators not long previously.

The problem is compounded by youngsters who want to have their share of the proverbial cake the easy way by forcing their way to the compound to scoop the sand free of charge.

Twenty five people have lost their lives in the clashes so far, and seriously jeopardized the relationship between the investors and Nyamongo residents.

A Form Four student at Nyamomgo Secondary School who wished to remain anonymous, and who confessed to have taken part in the theft operations, rubbished claims that the investors were exploiting people in the vicinity.

The real problem, he said, was that unethical police officers and company staff demanded top-up cash above what they had initially agreed on as ‘gold theft fees’.

He explained that their group would pay one million shillings upfront for a half-hour sand-scooping operation, but would be dismayed when, mid-way, policemen who conducted them through the gates and up to the site, would demand more money.

That, he said, shaking his head sideways in utter disgust, triggered verbal exchanges that culminated in shooting by live ammunition.

Some interviewees pointed out that the problem was worsened by villagers who questioned the fairness of granting access to the lucrative sand to only those who were capable of bribing insiders.

As area residents, they deemed it their right to have a share, and thus formed gangs of machete and spear-wielding invaders who clashed with the police, leading to some fatalities and long lists of critically injured persons.

It has emerged, too, that those who conspire with insiders are financially liquid because they are agents of mainly Kenya-based buyers.

The agents are hated because they prosper while their mostly poor compatriots languish in poverty, and vow to conquer it through accessing their ‘rightful share’ of the gold-bearing sand.

An old resident of Nyamwaga village shed more light on the illegal operations. He said when peace reigns amongst members of the unholy trinity, the situation is calm as things are well co-ordinated.

It is only when the presumed illegal, non-bribe-dishing invaders strike; they are blocked and attacked by the police, because they are an unbeneficial lot.

Speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals, two policemen in Tarime District said the posting of officers to the mine for guard duty was clouded by corruption.

They claimed that cash and sex bribes were given to high-ranking officers by juniors, for postings to the mine, as investments for financial gains they would reap there. They further claimed that mine-based police remitted monthly ‘thankful’ fees to their bosses.

Tarime Rorya special police zone commander Assistant Commissioner Constantine Massawe, conceded that some of the law enforcement organ’s staff were unethical, but said once detected, they are duly sanctioned.

He said: “One of our officers has been recalled from the mine for violating ethics, and this has applied to others whenever we are informed of unacceptable practices; but not all of our employees are bad – there are good and bad people even amongst Barrick employees.”

“Gold concentrate is grouped according top grades, now how come people invade the mine and identify the one of highest grade and go straight to it if not mine workers providing leading information to the invaders ?” queried Masswe who said they were still investigating the matter.

Massawe revealed, too, that four policemen had been disciplined for violation of ethics while on duty at North Mara gold mine.

He dismissed the sex bribery claim, saying that postings to the mine were on a rotational basis.

In another development residents sounding the North Mara gold mine have called on the government to state firmly on the killings and announce when they would be allocated land for small scale mining

They have also asked the government to form a commission of inquiry on the root cause of the recurrent killings and report the findings publicly as soon as possible.

Addressing a news conference at a special camp set up for preparing the burial of the deceased whose bodies have been preserved at Tarime hospital, they said the misunderstandings would persist if land for partisan mining was not allocated.

Wilson Mangurure, a councilor for Kemambo ward said the tension arose from the investors’ failure to execute the agreements reached with five villages surrounding the mine which requires them (investors) to provide one percent of their revenue to the village authorities and allocate lands for small scale mining.

Earlier, Commander Masawe told a briefing session that the policemen found themselves without a better option but to open gunfire towards a group of about 1,000 people who sought to force their way into the mine.

The killed civilians are Chacha Mwita(25) Chacha Ngoka(25), Chawali Bhoke(26), Mwikwabe Marwa(35), and Emanuel Magige(27).

Latest reports say the deceased would be buried on Tuesday, after the paying of last respects at Sabasaba grounds in Tarime.

Security has been intensified around Tarime township as there is an increase in the number of policemen and officers. Water cannons have been deployed.

The Legal and Human Right Center (LHRC) through their lawyer, Pasiens Mlowe, has urged the government to act promptly to bring the Nyamongo crises to an end, to avoid regular killings.



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