Tanzanian president John Mafuguli has cancelled a prospecting licence belonging to Acacia Mining, formerly African Barrick. Instead, he told reporters that the artisanal miners would be allowed to stay at the site.
“How do you kick out more than 5,000 people in favour of just one investor?” he was reported to say.
A large part of his thinking may be guided by the fact that his government expects foreign owned mining companies pay more taxes, build local smelters, and list 30% of their shares on the local stock exchange. Acacia does not meet those criteria.
The problem is that those 5,000 artisanal miners will remain at high risk for injury or death in an unregulated workplace. Falls of ground, exposure to toxins, a conscripted workforce, and child labour are some of the perils facing 5,000 people as they scramble over one another to scratch a living out of the dirt.
Barrick knows well the dangers faced by artisanal miners. From the company’s “Beyond Borders” in October 2008:
“At age 13, Alfaxad Chacha started digging. He never stopped. Seven days a week, 14 hours a day, he sifted through the red mud and rock of the Tanzanian landscape under an equatorial sun. With a little luck and a lot of backbreaking labour, Alfaxad and his friends eked out a meagre living on the miniscule bits of gold they uncovered.
“Today, Chacha is 50 years old. He lives in the village of Kerende in Tanzania’s Mara region. A life of digging for gold under the ground has hardened him.
“ ‘I am an artisanal gold miner. I have been all my life and so were my parents before me, but I’m not too proud of what I do’” Chacha says. ‘My work is barely able to support me, my family and my community. It is very hard work for very little money. This is not the life I dreamt of, but it is all I have.’
“Like many others, Chacha spends his days digging, crushing and grinding ore to unlock the small particles of gold it contains. He sells his product for a fraction of its true value to gold dealers who pass through the village. It’s part of an underground gold industry in Tanzania – one with no government regulation or oversight of any kind.
“’I know I put my life at risk, using explosives with no safety equipment. I put my family in danger by exposing them to mercury. I put the land at risk because the sulphates, mercury and arsenic I leave behind destroy our crops and pollute the water,’ Chacha says. ‘But I don’t do this because I want to; I have no choice. I have to make a living and support my family.’ “
If the Tanzanian president believes this type of existence is suitable for his people, he is sadly mistaken.
Acacia’s involvement could provide training, jobs, and social stability to many of the local communities. Instead of nearly starving for endless work, the people could be offered a hand up toward establishing small businesses – those that serve mining, the local agricultural sector and much, much more.
For everyone who needs to refresh their approach to working or interacting with the artisanal and small scale mining sector, we will refer you to the Alliance for Responsible Mining (www.ResponsibleMines.org). This organization has launched an e-learning platform for just that purpose. The central themes are based on the responsible mining practices of the Fairmined Standard, which promotes business development and social and environmental responsibility.