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"There is Death in them thar' Pits"

Issue: 38 Section: International News Geography: Africa Tanzania Topics: Mining, social movements

July 5, 2006

"There is Death in them thar' Pits"

Canada's Barrick Gold in Tanzania

by Tracy Glynn

Barrick-web.jpg
Small-scale miners and farmers have lost their land and livelihoods to open pit mining in Tanzania. photo: Mustafa Iroga
Tanzanian environmental lawyer Tundu Lissu wants Canada's Barrick Gold held accountable for abuses perpetrated by the company in Tanzania. He is concerned by the latest rash of violent deaths occurring around the Barrick owned North Mara gold mine.

Local villager Kieva Yohanna was shot five times in the back after having allegedly entered the mine complex illegally on June 1. According to Lissu, his death marks the sixth violent death linked to Barrick's security operatives in less than a year.

In July 2005, police shot and killed Marwa Nyansinge on the grounds of the Nyabigena Primary School. As mine operatives fled the scene of the shooting they struck and killed another villager, Bhoke Maseke, who was holding a child. Marwa Nyansinge was targeted by police for allegedly stealing petroleum from the North Mara Gold mining company, then owned by the Canadian gold mining company Placer Dome and later bought by Barrick.

According to Lissu, the killings represent a shift in Barrick's strategy for dealing with locals critical of its operations.

In 2001, after being forcefully evicted from their homes to make way for the mine, hundreds of villagers, including community leaders and prominent locals, were targeted for illegal arrests, criminal prosecutions and long-term imprisonment. Lissu believes the strategy was intended to frighten community members and discourage resistance to the mine, but notes that it "never quite worked, particularly after we started to offer free legal representation to the villagers targeted."

The latest killings signal a change in tactics for Barrick to what Lissu calls 'naked violence,' but violence in Tanzania's mining industry and Canada's involvement is nothing new.

In the early 1990s, the Tanzanian government turned to Foreign Direct Investment to develop its mining sector. As Tanzania became the largest recipient of FDI in Africa, many Tanzanians' with small-scale mining and farming operations had their livelihoods destroyed through land acquisitions involving bulldozers and paramilitary forces.

"A potentially viable regional economy based on small-scale mining was physically destroyed at the behest of the World Bank and transnationals to make way for large-scale mining," says Jamie Kneen from Mining Watch Canada, "Who benefits? The companies and their shareholders. Not Tanzanians, or at least not the ones whose farms are being destroyed, or whose hand-dug pits were bulldozed, or whose shops no longer have customers."

The Bulyanhulu mine in northern Tanzania, operated by Kahama Mining Corporation is one of the world's most infamous cases of mine-related violence. In August 1996, it is alleged that over fifty artisanal (small-scale) miners were buried alive in a pit by a bulldozer used to construct the mine. The move was seen as a tactic to clear the pits of an estimated 250,000 artisanal miners in the community.

The Bulyanhulu mine was bought three years later by Toronto-based global mining giant Barrick Gold. Barrick and the Tanzanian government both denied allegations of mass murders at Bulyanhulu and accused those leading the charges of lying. Lissu and his organization, Lawyers' Environmental Action Team (LEAT), responded with videotapes, eyewitness accounts, family testimonies, and a list identifying 36 men that he says were buried alive.

One of the family testimonies came from Melania Baesi, the mother of two alleged victims, Jonathan and Ernest Lwekamwa. The last time she saw her two sons alive was when they were heading off to work in a small mine pit with a dozen other miners. One of the miners who had left the pit earlier that day to fetch a rope visited Melania Baesi's house that evening to recount what he saw when he returned to the pit from his errand: "Policemen were everywhere and the company's Caterpillar was leveling the pits. They tried to push me back into the pit but I managed to escape and run away into the bushes with sounds of gunfire behind me." When the families went to the pit hoping to rescue their loved ones, they found leveled pits instead.

Lissu and others maintain that the cover-up allowed Barrick to secure US$ 234 million in political risk insurance from the World Bank and Canada's Export Development Corporation. Critics also believe the cover-up may have been aided by Barrick's many influential friends—the company's international advisors have included former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former U.S. president George Bush Sr.

In 2001, many international organizations, including the Council of Canadians, Mining Watch Canada and Amnesty International, called for an independent international investigation into the allegations of mass murder in the Bulyanhulu pit. A number of appeals for such an investigation were made to then Foreign Affairs Ministers; John Manley, Pierre Pettigrew and Bill Graham all rejected the calls for an independent inquiry.

Barrick is now the largest gold mining company in the world, and the Bulyanhulu mine has become one of its most profitable.

Like many mining activists around the world, Lissu has been arrested, charged, and jailed. He was arrested at his residence in Dar es Salaam on December 23, 2002, immediately after returning from the U.S. where he was then a research fellow at the World Resources Institute, and was held for over 24 hours in an underground jail known as "The Hole." Lissu and two colleagues, including the leader of the Tanzanian opposition party, were charged with violating Tanzania's 1976 Newspaper Act No. 3 for "uttering words with seditious intention." The sedition charge stemmed from their persistent claims that artisanal miners were buried alive at Bulyanhulu. The criminal charges of for sedition against Lissu and his colleagues remain to this day, but the prosecutors have yet to kick-start the proceedings. Lissu and his colleagues at LEAT continue to press for justice for small-scale miners despite police intimidation including raids of their homes and offices.

Lissu says Canadians must take action "to support an end to the killings of innocent civilians. We particularly request that our Canadian partners and friends draw public attention to these abuses and help bring Barrick Gold Corporation to account for its actions."

Lissu's latest call comes at a time when a Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is holding roundtable discussions across the country on corporate social responsibility for Canadian mining companies operating overseas. It remains to be seen if these discussions will result in the attention and accountability that Lissu and so many others around the world are seeking.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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