By Erik Hagen
Fifty-two small-scale mine workers were, according to a Tanzanian lawyers’ organization, buried alive when a Canadian company, together with the Tanzanian authorities, in 1996 filled the entrances to the mines they were working in. The area was then to be reorganized as a commercial operation.
One of the companies that participated in the construction of the mine works was the Norwegian company Noremco with headquarters in Tanzania. Noremco constructed all concrete foundations at the mine. This emerges from Noremco’s own web site.
Razed to the Ground
When the gold deposits in Bulyanhulu, Tanzania, were taken over by foreign interests in 1996, the local settlements were removed. All the earlier mine workers were forced to leave. Tens of thousands of people can have been banished from their homes in the course of the first weeks of August 1996.
In addition, a Tanzanian lawyers’ organization says that 52 workers at a small-scale mine were buried alive when bulldozers filled the mine shafts. The 52 were supposed to have been down in the mine galleries. The clearing was carried out by the Canadian company Kahama Mining Co. Ltd in collaboration with Tanzanian authorities, contrary to a ruling by a Tanzanian High Court.
A contractor also has a responsibility in such circumstances, according to Tundu Lissu, a lawyer in the Tanzanian organization Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT). Norwatch met Lissu in Tanzania in November.
“Ethically, a contractor like Noremco also has a responsibility. Noremco should definitely have brought this up with the company when it entered into the contract,” Lissu told Norwatch.
Noremco’s contract lasted from September 1999 to August 2001, and the value of the contract was US$9.5 million. The agreement was entered into with Kahama Mining Co. Ltd – the same company that owned the bulldozers that filled the mine shafts.
16,000 cubic meters concrete was utilized for all of the project’s concrete foundations. Noremco also participated in the blasting and transportation of the granite rock. The company was awarded the contract in collaboration with the South African contractor Murray & Roberts.
The company that Noremco worked for, Kahama Mining, which today is owned by Barrick Gold, denies that anyone died in the 1996 episode. While the new owners of Barrick earn millions on the mining operations in the area today, hardly any compensation has been given to those who were thrown out of their homes.
In 1975 the local villagers in Bulyanhulu discovered that they were living on top of gold. In the course of the next two decades there was extensive immigration into the area by small-scale mine workers who wanted to participate in the adventure. It is uncertain how many were living there at the most. Some reports suggest that several hundred thousand settlers lived in the area, which eventually was to be reorganized as a commercial mining operation.
In September 1994 the Canadian company Sutton Resources obtained the rights to carry out gold production in the area, through its Tanzanian subsidiary Kahama Mining Co. Ltd. The local population opposed the company’s claim, and on 29 September 1995 a case was tried in a High Court in Tanzania.
The judge, Justice Mchome, wrote in the judgement that he was surprised at how the case had developed. When the case was first tried in the court, he thought it would be a simple instance of small-scale mine workers who had forced their way onto the company’s property.
“But when the Written Statement of Defence and Counter Claim was filed, I discovered that this suit was more than that …. I found no provisions made for compensation and/or resettlement of the indigenous population”, the judge wrote, according to a publication about the Bulyanhulu episode issued by the Canadian student papers The Varsity and The Atkinsonian in 2002.
The judge ascertained that the case comprised certain “constitutional basic rights and duties” and sent it further on in the judicial system. But it never got there.
A year later, while the case was still in the judicial system, the drama started in Bulyanhulu. Until then there had been intense pressure internally in the Canadian mining company to speed up the project. The share price had decreased to less than a third of its 1994 level. The company held a series of meetings with Tanzania’s top leaders, including the prime minister and the president, to get the problem population removed from the area.
On 31 July 1996 the government’s representative, Major General Tumaniel Kiwelu, arrived in one of the nearby villages where many of the mine workers lived. Norwatch has visited Tanzania and obtained a copy of a black/white, flickering police video that shows the episode. With a crackling megaphone and escorted by armed police, Kiwelu told a crowd of people that they were no longer permitted to carry out mining operations in the area. “If you see something what looks like some kind of mineral, you may not put it in your pocket,” he told the crowd.
The video shows that several of the listening workers repeatedly requested permission to ask questions, without being heard.
“It is time [for you] to apply for a permit to mine”, Major General Kiwelu says repeatedly. “From where?” one of the workers shouts. “Hey you, shut up,” Kiwelu answers.
He then informs the settlers that they have 24 hours to leave the area.
One of the settlers immediately goes to look up the judge from the previous year. There he receivs support. “Natural justice requires that even a poor peasant at least be consulted before a decision that affects his life is made,” Judge Mchome states on 2 August 1996, according to the Canadian student newspapers.
Mchome decides that no expulsion could occur so long as the case is being tried in the judicial system. This did not stop the authorities and the company. Just 5 days later one of Kahama’s bulldozers rolls over the fields at Bulyanhulu. The machines fill 500 mine shafts with stone and gravel.
But the small-scale mine workers were at work that day. According to the Tanzanian lawyers’ organization LEAT, 52 people were buried alive. No one has seen them since.
The police reached the location a week later but would not dig out the shafts again. They claimed it would be too expensive.
“When I said there were people down in the shafts, they denied it. They started to hit me so that I fell,” Mafuru Butondo, an eyewitness, told the Norwegian national broadcaster TV2 April 7th 2008.
Both Kahama, which carried out the clearing operation in 1996, and Barrick Gold, which later bought Kahama, deny that anyone died in the 1996 episode.
In an email to Norwatch, Vince Borg, Senior Vice President Corporate Communications, in Barrick Gold, referred to an investigation carried out by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), an institution that treats complaints for to World Bank projects.
“You should be aware of the fact that Mr. Lissu of LEAT had requested the independent investigation by the CAO/Ombudsman office back in 2001” Borg wrote, saying there were a dozen investigations carried out even before that.
Borg said that the CAO report “deals forthrightly with all of the spurious, unsubstantiated allegations made by Mr. Lissu over time”.
According to Lissu, however, the CAO investigation was a scandal.
”Before we complained, they clearly said to us that it would be impossible to file a complaint including human rights violations, such as the expulsions or killings in Bulyanhulu. They only opened for a complaint including the socio-economic conditions for the project”, Lissu told Norwatch in Tanzania.
Lissu told Norwatch that he personally accompanied CAO’s representatives during the four-five days they were in Bulyanhulu.
”Even though they said it was outside of their mandate; even though they did not permit us to present our documentation of human rights violations; and even though they cannot possibly have spoken about the human rights violations with a single affected person during their stay in Tanzania, they concluded that no violations had taken place when the area was cleared”, Lissu told Norwatch.
Limited role in the mine
Noremco managing director, Tor-Ivar Foshaug, wrote in an email to Norwatch that their company has had a very limited role in the Bulyanhulu project, and that the company is highly valuing its social responsibilities.
He furthermore said that when his company won the tender for participating in the mine works in 1999, they were not aware of the stories of small scale artisanal miners having lost their lives on the area 3 years before.
”When we started up the works, this was of course totally unknown for us. And we have not heard of these speculations until a long time afterwards”, Foshaug wrote Norwatch. Therefore, the company never raised the issue with Kahama Mining.
Noremco was thus not aware of the national media coverage of the story three years prior to their tender was won.
"Noremco has carried out activities in East Africa with main office in Dar Es Salaam for more than 20 years, and I can assure you that we have on several occasions taken ethical concerns into consideration. We have emphasised to work along ethically correct principles, and at least follow laws and regulations", wrote Foshaug to Norwatch.
FACTS: The Gold in Bulyanhulu