A Student Development Experience in a Development Context

Small-Scale Gold Mining in Bunda

After reading the two Globe and Mail articles on June 7th, we couldn’t wait to go to Bunda to visit a gold mining site. Our group talked about visiting the Barrick site in Tarime, since it is only 150 km from Bunda, but decided that it might not be a good idea for a Canadian NGO to show up at such a controversial site with a group of white people from Canada.  Our safety could potentially be at risk. Nevertheless, we were promised earlier in the month that we would be visiting a small-scale mining site in Haruzale Village, Bunda District; equally exciting!

Very recently, prior to our arrival in Tanzania, I (Katherine) became interested in large- and small-scale mining in Tanzania, and in fact made the topic the focus of my Global Political Economy thesis. Part of my research looked at the foreign direct investment of large corporations, such as Barrick, and the side-effects for communities surrounding the gold-mines, such as small-scale miners whom often are marginalized in account of large-scale mines. My (Scott’s) interest in the topic has been sparked by my studies in the Global Political Economy program at the UofM, where issues surrounding land ownership and access/control to natural resources are discussed on the regular. I thought that the visit to Haruzale’s small mine would add some depth and reality to issues that we discuss in the classroom.

As we pulled up to the mining site, there were about 50 people including men, women and children, surrounding us and welcoming us with smiles and curiosity. There was a motherly woman, who spoke hastily in Swahili. We learned from Japhet that she was insistent that we take a trip into a mining hole. Her reasoning was that one cannot come to a Tanzanian mining site and not go down into the mines. After asking some questions, we felt ready to get into the mines, but our cowardly instincts drew us from the idea while the word “liability” crossed our minds.

The men who went into the mines were shirtless and in sandals, and some didn’t have any shoes at all. They would tie themselves onto a rope attached to a sisal pole and belay themselves into a dark hole. The tools they carried down were minimal: a rope, a bucket, a pick, a hammer, and a spade. During our Q & A, the men expressed concern and said that they would like to have gloves, boots, overalls, and helmets.

Excavation of the site we visited began just three months ago in March. The pits were between 30 and 50 feet deep; shallower in depth in comparison to older sites where the pits would be as deep as 200 feet. You can imagine the potential dangers associated with mining so deep; very poor air circulation, little lighting and fragile soil. Once at a large enough depth, to prevent any collapse, steel pole reinforcements are put in place. Despite this, complete safety is questionable. You may wonder, why continue mining at such dangerous depths? There is a catch 22: the deeper you go, the more gold you get. Fortunately they have not had any collapses of mines in their experience, but minor injuries are not uncommon.

The different gender roles were quite apparent. Women and children may dig small holes and scavenge for extra bits of rock. It is men who do most of the mining and thus are most at risk. But these roles extended beyond simply mining activity. How do gender roles in mining affect the household? Since men are the ones that have the opportunity to mine, they have the access to the profits. The villagers made it clear that gold mining was by far their best income generator, putting more money into the hands of male miners than any other economic activity (farming, fishing, entrepreneurship, etc.). Access to income is a very important development issue, particularly women’s access to income, which appeared to be largely ignored by the villagers at the Haruzale mine. We’ve seen the importance of women having access and decision-making power over household income through a variety of CPAR’s projects.  Women are more inclined to spend money on necessities like food, shelter and school fees, so women earning money translates to benefits for the whole family, not just one member. It takes a lot of education and sex-specific discussion to convince men to share their bounty or hand over some economic activities to their wives, something that CPAR takes very seriously.

Land ownership at the mine site was quite interesting. The entire land area was about 300×100 metres with roughly a dozen pits dug into it. One man owned all the land and was paid a ground rent in gold for each pit. The “tenants” were small groups formed from neighbours in the village or family members. To protect from thefts and to keep up the pace of gold extraction, each pit was worked 24 hours a day. Each group had about 5 members and they would rotate around the clock like shift-work. The owner of the land was required to get a small-scale miners license from the mining department in Bunda District (the level of local governance), who in turn would report to the Central Government’s Ministry of Energy and Minerals. The owner made it seem like it wasn’t too much of a hassle to get the license and it was encouraging to see that the Central Government was supportive of small-scale mining.

During our Q & A, there were two questions that we both found very interesting, one from us to them and the other from them to us. In regards to the former, we asked if the villagers were aware of the situation in Tarime and if they feared that the government would push them aside in favour of foreign investment. Everyone nodded and said that they were aware that people were being killed in Tarime for trying to reclaim land that they had been pushed off of. They expressed concern that their day of reckoning would soon come. That is mainly why the mines are worked 24 hours a day, it is a race against the Government’s foreign investment clock. The position of the Government here is somewhat warranted however. Large foreign investors pay taxes (whether those companies are honest about how much profits they are extracting is another question) while poor villagers are exempt from paying taxes. For a Government struggling to find more tax income, there is always a difficult dilemma when it comes to deciding who should have control over valuable resources.

The second question that really intrigued us was when one particularly interested man asked what the purpose of our visit was. Were we investors? Were we a humanitarian group coming to offer safety equipment? Neither, but we were interested political economy students. We told the man that we study the political and economic issues surrounding natural resource management. He asked us what we are going to do to change the “situation.” We all looked at each other, silent for a moment. We wondered the same thing, what can we do to change such situations that seem so unjust? Jacklynn, in her optimistic and hopeful point of view, responded by saying that a lot of what we can do is raise awareness to the Canadian public that the largest mining company in the world needs to be responsible for their actions, and in addition make people aware of the conditions of small-scale miners. Awareness is just the first of many steps in instituting change, the global economy is a powerful force, one that is resistant to change.

It was quite ironic that the Globe and Mail articles came out around the same time that we were discussing mining and natural resource issues in Tanzania. The articles and our visit with miners on the ground gave us a sense of the extent of development issues in this country. CPAR has done a lot of work with farmers in Karatu and now in Bunda and has worked with schools and traditional birth attendants to improve their health, skills and incomes. These initiatives were all instigated from the inside. CPAR is connected to the communities they work with and the communities fully endorse the initiatives. The pressures exerted on community development by outside forces can be debilitating. Superprofits often trump local efforts aimed at strengthening communities.

Our visit to the small-scale mining site was insightful indeed. We were able to connect the dots between the local perspective and our prior academic knowledge. Our visit definitely reinforced how challenging it can be to develop communities from the inside out when the outside world can be so crazy!

Katherine & Scott


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