Some small-scale miners die in the pit when the walls cave in. And they also fall sick after inhaling mineral dust for long.
Patrick Moses (49) lies under the shade of a tree looking dejected and sickly. His sunken cheeks, his emaciated frail body and his general disposition bespeak of a man in agony – one who has seen it all and lived to tell the story. His health is failing after a stint in a mining pit.
Much of the wages he had saved went to his medical care, treating a disease that never seems to go away.
He suffers a disease that has completely maimed him, rendering him ineffective from his prior stint as an artisanal miner.
Many others have silently and perhaps died of pneumoconiosis, a disease caused by inhalation of carbon and other mineral dust in mining shafts.
He has been a local miner for many years. He says that artisan mining pays off only for those with licenses from the Ministry of Energy and Minerals but the situation is directly opposite for the casual labourers who actually go down the mines to extract gold on behalf of the licensed miners.
Besides the possibility of contracting diseases, artisanal miners are prone to so many dangers in the mining shafts but despair is their driving force. Patrick, once strong, capable, energetic man is a now a pale shadow of himself.
“I cannot exactly recall the year I begun working as an artisanal miner but it is quite a long time. I had very limited knowledge of mining industry but the need to put bread on the table was my driving force,” he says with difficulties.
A father of six, he says despite the grueling work coupled with the danger that lurks inside pits, some licensed miners often consider artisanal miners they engage not worthy – like some chattel that could be replaced any time.
Helplessly, the frail old man says that he suffers from pneumoconiosis, an occupational lung disease caused by the dust from the mines. It is called black lung disease.
His conditions worsened in 2011 and he was left with no choice but to quit mining to go home – hoping that somehow, he could secure medical attention.
His health condition is so bad that he spends long part of the day lying under the shade and is now in limbo as he cannot perform any of the simplest chores.
“I actually did not know what disease I had been suffering from since the symptoms were unclear and many. At time, I would have breathing difficulties. Other times, I would be shivering,” he said.
He vehemently blames his misfortunes as having emanated from his poverty, his meager educational background and his foreman whom he referred to as a “killer.”
He disclosed that, during the mining process especially at night, one can sense that grave danger is often lurking somewhere. Sometimes the cap-fitted torches fail to function forcing one to either sit or sleep in the pitch dark until a colleague volunteers to help evacuate him
Mine pits are often stuffy with little or no ventilation meaning that one has to inhale dust leading to respiratory diseases. A miner’s life is always in grave danger especially if walls collapse he said citing the Nyarugusu mining incident where some miners were trapped.
“While one sleeps, mine walls can come tumbling abruptly with no alert signs burying the miners alive. These things happen but such incidences are rarely spoken about out there,” he says.
He wishes that artisanal miners like those in developed mining sites would be equipped workers with the right work gear such as gloves, mining hats, lighting and security.
He acknowledges that artisanal miners working under the so-called licensed miners very well know about their eventuality but they are driven into it by the need for survival for themselves and their families.
The telltale signs that he had been infected with the disease became obvious when he started becoming weaker by day and his son noticing that his skin colour become chalky black, a far cry from his natural skin colour.
Black lung disease
The black lung disease is a respiratory disease contracted when miners inhale dust particles in the course of mining activities. When miners inhale coal dust and carbon.
Patrick suffers the ailment – he has long coughs and his spittle often has blood spots in it a condition that keeps going and coming back.
“I was admitted to Bugando Hospital in Mwanza for one and a half years, in the late 2013, where I was diagnosed and later discharged. Doctors told me not to skip any drug as this will lead to under dose, but this has never marked any improvement. They promised him that he would feel better,” Patrick.
In his words, condition worsens at night with difficulties in breathing, wheezing, sweating and chest pains.
“I am not the only one in this. Many other miners suffer these complications and do not even know about it until it is too late,” he added.
Patrick’s face is a familiar one in many hospitals in Mara.
“Besides Bugando Hospital , I have visited nearly every hospital seeking for help. Mara regional hospitals are familiar with my face as I have visited almost all of them,” he added.
Patrick has taken to temporary measures of using painkillers to ease the discomfort.
According to Mwanza regional medical officer, RMO, Lenard Subi, Pneumoconiosis can take several years to develop and the severity can be dependent on different factors.
“In general terms if you have worked in an a place where you have been exposed to different types of organic and non-organic dust over a long period you become susceptible to the disease. It is advisable to see your doctor,” he said.
Dr Murthy Venkateswaran, CEO Sanitas hospitals, avers that the result of mining without the right working gear for the artisanal miners is health – mental, physiological and physical.
He further says that long working hours inside the mines, disturb one’s life balance. Migrant workers who live far from work in mines often suffer form depression and other mental disturbances resulting in indulgence in socially unacceptable behaviors.
“Some miners end up in alcoholism, drug abuse and others to ease pressure on their lives”, says Venkateswaran.
The director and the owner of Renatus Nsangano Gold Mining, a company based in says Geita, there are big challenges to artisanal miners right from the lack of working tools and as well little capital. Even licensed miners lack geological information and hence put lives at risks.
“There are variations in the geological structure between one mining site and the other one. Also, besides lack of protective and working equipment, artisanal miners earn a paltry Sh 5,000y. Some however pay up to Tsh 30,000, amounts that do not commensurate with the risks involved.
An official from State Mining Corporation (STAMICO), sought anonymity said that artisanal miners do not keep records or even save for the future mostly due to illiteracy.
“Mining is arduous and dangerous occupation. Death rates in this occupation are believed to be well above the average compared to other occupations,” he said.
Recently, Tanzania’s parliament passed two laws allowing the government to force mining and energy companies to renegotiate their contracts, despite appeals from the mining association for more time.