Norwegian goldmining worries local population: - Do not take away our lifeline
By Harald Eraker
- We planted these fruit-trees, tilled these fields and built these houses. This is our home and this is how we make a living. We have always lived here. We will resist, if the authorities just give away our land without providing for us, says 90 year old Komla Torkpoh to NorWatch.
Surrounded by some hundred co-inhabitants of the village Dabokrom in Southwestern Ghana, he expresses his own and the others' fear of the future. Lately there has been great activity in and around the village of Dabokrom where the Hwini-Butre concession, owned by Norwegian Mindex and Canadian St. Jude Resources, is situated. The foreigners are looking for gold, digging ditches, building roads and drilling with machines in order to map the gold-deposits.
Mindex and its Canadian partner are optimists. Promising exploration results have been made, and the prospects of commercial extraction, i.e. open pit mining, are good. But the citizens of Dabokrom fear for their future.
- We would rather that our children and grandchildren could grow up here, like it has always been. We enjoy living here, this is a good life, says Emanuel Komla Zonu.
Trees are forever
Mindex's quest for gold has already marked the area, and people living within the 80 km2 large concession area have had their crops and fruit-trees destroyed, and the official rates of compensation doesn't nearly cover the expenses.
- For example, we are given 10.000 cedis (approximately 32 NOK) for every coconut palm we lose to mining. But how does this compare to a tree which gives us food? Trees last a long time, and is inherited by our children and grandchildren, says Zonu, who is speaking for every one when he says that they feel that they are being ripped off by the authorities and the company.
- We will confront them if we are not given a fair compensation, they tell NorWatch
The inhabitants of Dabokrom show NorWatch the gaping wounds left by the mining-companies' exploration. If mining ever comes about, not much will remain of the fields and fruit-trees. A group of young men are looking for gold next to one of the ditches dug by the company. In the traditional way they are wading through mud and water, they wash the gold that has become an important secondary income for the people in this area.
- The white man has been given concessions by the authorities, what can we do about that, ask several of the artesan miners, who are also afraid of the future.
Hoping for jobs
In the initial phase, when the mining-company is looking for gold, the company employs roughly one hundred locals to dig ditches. The workers are paid according to their effort: a working-team is paid 50,000 cedis (appr. 160 NOK) for a 10 meter long, one meter deep ditch. This is possible in one working day, maybe more, depending on the condition of the earth. The work is very hard, especially in the blazing sun. Even so, a working-team on their way home from work tells us that the prospect of future employment is a major motivation.
- We hope that we will be employed by the mining-company so that our future will be secured. We do not know how many positions are available, but one thing we do know: as soon as the mining starts, the traditional gold mining is finished, they say.
The inhabitants of Dabokrom are also hoping for employment, but nobody knows how many of the village's 700 adults who may get the opportunity.
Everyone NorWatch talks to complain over the lack of information from Mindex. Hence, people know very little of the consequences inflicted upon them, if the commercial extraction ever comes about, or which industrial methods the company will be using.
- The company's people haven't talked to the villagers and we never get any information other than what the local workers learn, says 90 years old Torkpoh. He also tells us that Hwini Butre Minerals only have to get permission from the authorities and then they may do whatever they like.
The question is how long the people in Dabokrom and elsewhere in the Hwini Butre-concession will remain calm. A few miles further north there has already been confrontations between goldmining-companies and the local population. This spring 42 chiefs from the Wassa Fiase-people went to the provincial capital Tarkwa to demonstrate against gold exploration.
Their message was that the mining, represented by a dozen foreign companies already engaged in mining and twenty companies looking for gold, threatens their very survival. The village Teberebie with its 2000 inhabitants had to move because of an American company's open pit mining. This is how it is described by an elderly man from the village of Teberebie to the Friends of the Earth's journal:
- When you have banished us from our land and refused us to live from agriculture, you have to give us jobs. Why do you insult us by refusing to hire us, he says to Fiends of the Earth. They have named this conflict "Ghana's Ogoni-land", with a clear reference to the Ogonis and the oil company Shell in Nigeria
Everything is OK
The director at the Hwini-Butre site, Canadian Jeff Watson of St. Jude Resources, which is in charge of the exploration, admits that there are problems between the locals and the company. However, he feels that the invasion of foreign companies, which took place after the liberalization of the mining law, has resulted in higher standards and better conditions.
- Earlier the goverment-owned mining companies did not care and ignored the local population. Today, my impression is that the mining-industry does everything to please everyone, says Watson.
Watson explains why people seem to be missing information from the company: St. Jude is negotiating with the local chiefs, also when it comes to compensations, and that the communications further down the chain may not be the best. Watson emphasizes that they stick to the Ghana's official standards for compensation, and that they often pay more than these in order to avoid conflicts.
- Not many people seem to understand that we have a legal right to run our enterprise, even though it's bad for the local gold-miners and people's agriculture. But we have managed to maintain a good relationship to the local population, says Watson. He adds that the results from the tests are good and that the mining may commence within a few years.
The people of Dabokrom do not share St. Jude's reassurances that all is well.
- If we are not treated fairly, we know of several ways to practice resistance, say the people of the village.
Mindex in Ghana
The Norwegian gold mining company Mindex holds a 51% stake in the concession-area Hwini-Butre, which gets its name from two rivers in Southwestern Ghana. The concession area is owned through the Ghanaian Hwini-Butre Minerals Ltd, which is fully owned by Mindex. Canadian St. Jude Resources owns the remaining 49%, and is the operator.
St. Jude has the option to increase its ownership to 65%, should the mining ever be realized.
The Ghanaian authorities have reserved a 10% share, while Mindex in this case will own the remaining 25%. According to the companies there has been made promising finds of gold, and they believe that mining could commence around the turn of the century.
Norwatch Newsletter 15/97