Small-scale miners protest mines closure

Small-scale miners in Mererani, Manyara Region, have protested the closure of four mines following the recent killing of an employee of the mining firm TanzaniteOne.

The secretary of the Manyara Region Miners Association (Marema), Mr Japhari Matambi, said yesterday the closure of the mines could render over 2,000 small-scale miners jobless.

The four mines were closed to pave the way for investigations into the killing of Mr Willy Mushi, who was allegedly shot dead by trespassers from adjacent mines owned by small scale miners while working underground in a shaft operated by TanzaniteOne.

Mr Matambi accused the government of siding with TanzaniteOne in the dispute at the expense of small-scale miners.

Mr Sammy Mollel, chairman of the Tanzania Mineral Dealers Association (Tamida), a lobby group based here, said the government was to blame for problems tanzanite miners were facing in Mererani.

He said the problems were well articulated in a report compiled by a committee headed by General (rtd) Robert Mboma.

“The findings were presented to the relevant authorities, but no action has been taken,” he said.

The head of the Northern Zone Mining Office, Mr Benjamin Muchwampaka, said the four mines were closed to pave the way for investigations into last week’s incident.

He asked people working at the mines to await police to complete investigations which are underway, noting that the boundaries of the mines owned by the investor and the small scale-miners were not clear, especially underground.

A TanzaniteOne official said the firm expected the government to swiftly intervene in the dispute now that it had a 50 per cent stake in the company.

“We had expected the government to be firm on our security especially after partnering with us. But what we are seeing is a deteriorating situation,” said the official, who did not want to be named for protocol reasons.

 He said their pleas to the relevant authorities to stop trespassers from entering into their mining block had not been successful even after the recent transfer of 50 per cent of TanzaniteOne shares to the State Mining Corporation (Stamico) as a condition of renewing its licence.
“We were confident the joint venture would ensure further assistance from the government on the problems we are facing the most burning being illegal miners pushing into our licensed area”, he pointed out, speaking on condition of anonymity.

TanzaniteOne Mining Limited is the world’s largest and most scientifically advanced extractor and supplier of rough tanzanite gemstones which are mined at Mererani.

It is licensed to mine in Block C area, which covers about one third of the mineral rich site.

A few months ago, the company engaged in talks in with Tanzania government which culminated in selling 50 per cent of its shares to the state, a measure which some company officials had hoped would have seen the authorities acting decisively to offer it maximum protection.

The killing has led to anger and apathy from the mine workers as well as the company with the latter claiming that illegal mining activities and violence allegedly perpetrated by miners illegally trespassing their licensed area have increased in the last 12 months.

Much of the trespassing and attacks, TanzaniteOne officials confided, had been directed to areas with high grade and quality tanzanite, severely constraining the operations of the company which has invested millions of dollars in gemstone mining there.

The July 20 killing led to hundreds of workers employed by the giant mine laying down tools in protest against increasing acts of insecurity in the area, with most of them blaming the local police and zonal mining office for inaction. 

All the four mines are in Block D area which is dominated by small scale miners and who have been in conflict with TanzaniteOne for years with the latter often accusing the private mineral excavators for tress passing in their licensed area.

The late Mushi, who was a security guard was shot dead on the night of July 20 allegedly when he was trying to stop some people from crossing into the area belonging to the giant mining firm to raid on the mineral finds, eye witnesses said.
Source: The Citizen, reported by Zephania Ubwani from Arusha, Tanzania
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