By Harald Eraker
4,422 people, mainly small farmers, have been forced to leave their homes to make way for the Geita mine. According to attorney Tundu Antiphas Lissu of the Lawyers' Environmental Action Team (LEAT) in Dar Es Salaam, the figure comes from the company operating the Geita mine, Ashanti Goldfields.
- When I first went there in March of last year, the forced removals was already in full swing, with bulldozers belonging to Skanska Jensen (...), razing villagers' dwellings and crops, Lissu says in an e-mail to NorWatch.
Ashanti Goldfields, a mining company based in Ghana, where it started its activities in the well-known Ashanti gold find, was in 1996 together with South Africa's AngloGold granted mineral rights to a 220 square kilometres area of Geita District at the south end of Lake Victoria. In 1999, an environmental impact analysis (EIA) for the project was completed.
Nowhere does the EIA mention that Copcot Cotton, a Swiss-owned cotton mill, is in fact located exactly where the Geita projects plans to put one of several large waste deposits. Copcot Cotton was just barely consulted during the EIA process, inter alia by a Norconsult representative. But the cotton mill is not mentioned at all in the discussion of the social and environmental impacts the mining project might have.
- If Copcot, its huge financial resources notwithstanding, has been treated in this way, what will happen to poor and politically marginalised villagers, Lissu asks, and gives the answer himself:
- The villagers had been told by the then District Commissioner for Geita District, who was accompanied by armed police, that they must leave their settlements whether they agreed with the compensation imposed on them or not. Ultimately, the villagers had to leave, their homes were being demolished anyway and they did not have much choice.
Commissioned by Copcot Cotton, the LEAT's attorney Lissu investigated the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the Geita projects on the nearby local communities. In the report he presented last year, he lashed out at the government and at Ashanti Goldfields over compensation.
Firstly, Lissu cannot understand the decision that the evictees were to receive compensation based on the market price of land and properties in 1992. Secondly, he is very critical of the level of compensation.
- I know of villagers who were paid as little as 100 dollars in Tanzanian currency for everything they lost, houses, farms, etc., Lissu says.
Thirdly, there is no rehabilitation plan for the evictees. According to Lissu, the locals have been told that the government has no alternative lands for them, and that they must therefore simply take the money they get and leave the mining area.
Illegal gold washing
A large part of the population inside the project area is engaged in traditional gold washing. According to the LEAT report, however, there is no compensation plan at all for this group. To the contrary, Ashanti Goldfields' project documents say that the gold washers lack official papers sanctioning their activities, and that these activities are therefore illegal.
When Lissu last visited Geita District in August last year, the villagers had already left the mining area, and most of them had settled near the mine and Geita, the district capital. The indignant attorney has this to say about his observations:
- Even here they weren't allowed any peace: Ashanti Goldfields was busy marking these shacks for demolition for ostensibly being inside the mine area or too close to it!
Lots of waste
The Geita project has now started producing gold. The ore is mined in the conventional way by open-cast mining, and the mine is expected to produce gold for eight years and a half. The activities go on for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all the year round. The expected annual production is between 170,000 and 180,000 ounces of gold.
The activities will lead to huge amounts of waste. During the mine's lifetime, 73 million (metric) tons of mass will be dumped in six different waste deposits in the area. Huge amounts of water are also used in production; according to the LEAT report, 2.5 million cubic metres will be used annually.
Besides the waste problem, people's prime concern is the mine's use of cyanide. As much as 20,400 tons of cyanide will be used in lifetime of the Geita project. Lissu points out that the gold mine is located by a river that runs out into Lake Victoria only 20 kilometres away. He recalls the severe cyanide accidents that have in recent years caused death and destruction in Kirgizstan and Romania.
- One can only imagine what would happen if something similar were to occur in Geita, considering the lack of preparedness and resources that characterises Tanzania in general, Lissu thinks.
The project's use of cyanide has led to protests from the other countries around Lake Victoria. According to Environment News Service, the organisations Kenya's Greenbelt Movement (KGM) and Uganda's Advocates' Coalition for Development and Environment (UACDE) have called on Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to start extensive environmental monitoring of the Geita project.
Professor Wangari Maathai, leader of KGM, has attacked the project as "hazardous, unethical, and the most insensitive economic enterprise I have ever encountered".
Maathai has threatened to mobilise people around Lake Victoria to march against the companies involved in the Geita project.
No ethical problems
One of the companies that have been involved in the project is Noremco Construction, a Veidekke subsidiary. Together with the South African construction firm Murray & Roberts, they got the contract for the concrete works in connection with the construction of the gold extraction plant at the Geita mine.
Some 10,000 cubic metres of concrete went into the foundation of some of the greatest crushing mills that have ever been built in connection with the extraction of gold, according to Noremco. The company's contract was worth more than USD 4 million, and the work is now completed.
Asked by NorWatch, however, Noremco will not comment on any of the controversial issues of the Geita project. Managing director Mikael Loof says in an e-mail that, as contractors, they have nothing to do with that kind of questions. He further states that:
- Noremco is a reputable building contractor in Tanzania, with a long history without ethical problems.
Attorney Lissu, for his part, thinks that the Geita project is not just ethically objectionable, but also in conflict with Tanzanian law. In the LEAT report, he examines the project in the light of the country's mining act, expropriation act, and environmental legislation.
In this context, Lissu passes a crushing judgement on the mining project. His recommendation is for Copcot Cotton to sue Ashanti Goldfield as soon as possible, to challenge the various aspects of the Geita Gold Project. The recommendation is not only addressed to the cotton firm:
- In my view, Copcot neither can nor should fight this struggle alone. Thousands of clients and suppliers of cotton are in danger of suffering great harm because of the project, Lissu concludes in his report.
Since Copcot started its activities in 1997, the company has supplied seed to some 100,000 farmers in the area, who have sold cotton back to the company. The Geita mine will not only displace farmers and deprive them of pastures and farmland, it will also negatively impact local livelihoods and Copcot's resource base.
The latest news from Lissu, however, are that Copcot has chosen not to sue, out of fear of falling out with the government, which is very enthusiastic about the Geita project.
Gold for jewellery
The Geita projet, Africa's largest gold mine outside South Africa, will serve a market which in many critics' opinion has more than enough gold already. When Turkish environmental advocate Birsel Lemke this year received the Right Livelihood Award (the alternative Nobel prize) in Stockholm, she pointed out that banks alone hold gold reserves estimated at 35,000 tons, and that 85 percent of the gold mined today is made into jewellery.
- Must we sell our mountains to the jewellery industry and spend our water on making gold necklaces? The mining industry is turning areas into moon-like landscapes, and destroying the options of other activities such as farming and tourism, Lemke told the Associated Press in connection with the award ceremony on Friday, December 8.
"Noremco is a reputable building contractor in Tanzania, with a long history without ethical problems."
- Managing director Mikael Loof, Noremco Construction, to Norwatch, 11.12.2000
"The villagers had been told by the then District Commissioner for Geita District, who was accompanied by armed police, that they must leave their settlements whether they agreed with the compensation imposed on them or not. Ultimately, the villagers had to leave, their homes were being demolished anyway and they did not have much choice."
- Attorney Tundu Antiphas Lissu, Lawyers' Environmental Action Team, 31.10.2000
Noremco Construction in Tanzania
Noremco Construction was, together with the South African construction firm Murray & Roberts, awarded a contract in 1999 for concrete works in connection with the construction of the gold extraction plant at the Geita Gold Project. Some 10,000 cubic metres of concrete went into the foundation of the largest crushing mills that have ever been built in connection with gold extraction, according to Noremco. The company's contract was worth USD 4.2 million, and the work is now completed. Noremco Construction is a wholly owned subsidiary of A/S Veidekke. Geita Gold Project is 42% owned by Ghana's Ashanti Goldfields and 58% by South Africa's AngloGold.
Norwatch Newsletter 13/00