Nzega/Namungo. The picture those living far from big mine sites have is that most people residing around the mine areas are either employed by the companies or are self-employed as small miners or automatically enjoy the many indirect business opportunities created by the extraction industry.
However, the perception has remained the subject of a continuous debate between local residents and the mining companies.
Welcome to the North Mara Gold Mine. Looking at the mine from afar, your eyes meet a bare hillside. But it is not a hill, rather an artificial mound made up of tiers of reddish brown earth.
The mine is surrounded by at least 10 villages. Residents from surrounding villagers say despite the fact that the mine has helped them in provision of essential social services like schools and hospitals and improvement of infrastructures, few people are employed in the mine. Kelende Village chairman Mr Mniko Magabe said only one person from his village is employed in the mine. “Back then many people were employed but nowadays things have changed. Only one of my persons is employed in the mine and we don’t have much connection with him”. Youth Secretary for Kemombo Ward of which Kelende and other villagers are included Mr Musa Msabi said in the past the mine used to announce vacancies only for local villagers.
“Nowadays they don’t announce any employment opportunities publicly and even if they announce and call for interviews they will end up promising to call them for jobs, but in vein,” he explained.
He said initially they had agreed with the mine that every surrounding village must have its representative in the mine to feed them of all the developments touching on their lives. “Nowadays no one is employed as a spokesperson from our areas,” he added.
Mr Nelson Mathiko of Kelende Village says he has done several interviews but not selected in a single one. “After an interview they promise to call you, but you will wait until you find that the vacancies have already been filled.”
Mr Msabi said that many young people don’t have jobs and those who struggle for jobs, especially those who search for pieces of gold contained in discarded waste rocks from the mine debris (Magongola) end up frequently being beaten up by mine guards. Many are disabled, he says.
Mr Juma Bokobora, 27, whose left leg was amputated in 2011 in a hospital after mine guards hit him with a stone, is a living example of hostilities between mine guards and the gold searchers. Bokobora is now walking on crutches after his artificial leg broke.
Nyabichuna Village Chairman Ryoba Nyaika says only eight people are currently employed in the mine against 63, who were hired during the start of the mine. He claims there are currently no proper statistics and selection of workers compared to previous years.
Mr John Mkila, the chairman of Genkuru village, said six people from his village are employed by the mine as security guards against eight employed previously.
Tarime MP speaks out
Tarime Rural MP John Heche says he is aware of the concerns his people have been raising, blaming the alleged unemployment of his people on the mining contracts.
The outspoken MP says the contracts which the government had entered into with the big mining companies before the start of operations does not oblige the latter to employ only residents from the surrounding area.
“When I raised the issue in Parliament I was warned of promoting discrimination against other Tanzanians. They (Parliament) said only qualified people (according to the mine requirements) will get employed,” said the MP.
He said, however, that the Village Land Act is very clear that villages surrounding mining areas should benefit from the investment. “The mine has so far dished out at least Sh4 billion to villages and at least Sh5.6 billion in fulfilment of their corporate social responsibility last year,” he said.
“Our laws do not speak about employment of local residents but all Tanzanians,” he says.
According to the Mining Local Content Regulations of 2018, qualified Tanzanians should be offered the first consideration for employment and training in the extractive industry.
Minerals minister Mr Doto Biteko says there are fines and other charges that can be imposed on a mine operator who doesn’t comply with the regulation.
What North Mara says
North Mara is one of the biggest mines in Tanzania, which, since 2006, has been operated by the London-listed Acacia Mining, predominantly owned by a Toronto-based firm, Barrick, the world’s biggest gold mining company.
The mine employs at least 2,159 people, according to its human resources manager, Mr Saimon Sanga.
He says at least 97 per cent of the employees are locals while foreign experts account for only three per cent. “Of the 97 per cent, more than 50 per cent of the workforce comes from surrounding villages,” says Mr Sanga without specifying where they came from.
According to Mr Sanga, 1,361 are local contractors while 698 are local employees.
North Mara commenced commercial production in 2002 and has so far produced over 2 million ounces of gold. The life of the mine is estimated to be 8 years based on proven and probable gold reserves of 2.2 million ounces.
The case of the closed Resolute mine
Resolute’s Golden Pride mine was closed in late 2013. As agreed with the Government of Tanzania, the mining site and all the remaining infrastructure were formally handed over to the Mineral Resources Institute (MRI) in December 2014.
Golden Pride Mine started the construction Resolute mine in November 1997 and operated the mine for 15 years, successfully producing more than 2.2-million ounces of gold.
Mwaluzilo Village chairman Mr Musa Seleli says he doesn’t remember any villager who has been employed in the mine at that time. “What I am sure of is that most of my people mostly depended on farming,” he says.
Mr Seleli claims that the majority of people from his village are working as cheap labour across the mining areas while some are operating as artisanal miners after a sharp fall of rice farming following alleged diversion of rainwater channels that fed the rice fields. “The main source of water was directed to the mine’s pits,” he says.
Mr Musa Joseph, 28, a resident of Mwaluzilo Village, said since 2014 they had been able to engage in rice farming only during the floods of 2016. “There is no enough water, we don’t get enough food, so we end up doing cheap labour in the mine,” noted Mr Joseph.
Mr Seleli, who has since been elected the counsellor for Lusu Ward, acknowledges he doesn’t have the actual number of small scale miners in his area, saying he was working with district leaders to identify them and recognise their activities.
Nzega District Commissioner Godfrey Ngupula says he knows most of the illegal small miners in the areas as residents of Mwaluzilo Village.
“After establishing that we have talked to the ministry (ministry of mineral) and the owners of the mine to see how they can license them to do their work or otherwise,” he said.
Mineral institute speaks
The principal of Madini Institute which has its headquarters in Dodoma and a campus in Nzega town, Fredrick Mangasini, said the closed Resolute Mine is protected for student practical training. He said the institute was working with the government to see how they could support the local residents.