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The need to protect indigenous small-scale miners

JUST allow yourself a little time for reflection: What would have been the fate of several countries including Tanzania country without motorcycles, now used by thousands of young people to make a living?

From where do these young people mostly in towns originate? These are certainly huge questions, whose correct response, in my opinion, would reflect the overall economic reality of our country.

My own response, starting with the latter question is: majority of these young people actually originate from our country’s rural areas where the majority of the Tanzanian population; comprising of peasants are found.

The abundant prevalence of motorcycles–known locally as “bodaboda” has to a large extent, reduced what could have been a dangerous scene of abundant crimes omnipresent in a jobless society.

To say this does not imply that there is complete lack of young people in rural areas. They are there –very much around with their parents– soldiering on with the hand-hoe–tilling the land for food and other crops.

But in the intervening period, it is not tilling the land for agricultural products, which they are engaged in only–they are also digging up for abundant minerals for which this country is now greatly renowned for.

Abundant on Tanzanian land in various areas of the country in the countryside is gold, diamonds and other minerals–and minerals only unique to this country, called ‘Tanzanite’. Allow me, if I may, correct myself: all these minerals were not discovered in Tanzania recently.

They were there, even to the knowledge of Tanzanian Founder President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere at the early days of the independence of our country.

Mwalimu, reportedly knew of their existence but was not enthusiastic about them because, according to those close to him, he was concerned this country may not be the “real owner” of the minerals; rather, they would land in the hands of global multinationals of “imperialist countries” -as bluntly called those days!

We will come back to this point later in the latter part of this perspective.

So let us see what Tanzanian peasants and their children have been doing to make a living since the actual mining began after Mwalimu was gone.

Using not very sophisticated machines to till up the gold in one of the gold-rich areas of this country, Geita, what these genius peasants and their children have been doing in areas discovered with gold has been extraordinary.

Without using modern machines, they were able to discover areas endowed with gold and went ahead to mine that gold!

They have been doing this admirable job for decades, and according to one of them in Geita, they have even been able to pay the necessary taxation to the local district authorities as a result of their mining work.

But they have had competitors, as one of them told me recently; and these competitors are “Wazungu”–meaning “white men” or Europeans in Kiswahili.

“Whenever we discover a spot where there is gold, these Wazungu maneuver to throw us out,” said one of them-naming a big company in the area connected to global multinationals.

So this has been the highly appreciable role of peasants and their sons in our country’s rural areas who have opted to labor on using hand-hoes and other manual tools.

But in the intervening period, at the end of last month there were local TV news reports of a crackdown by local police in the gold-rich Geita Region against these small-scale indigenous miners.

According to reports, regional authorities allegedly in collusion with a local big mining company, apparently linked to multinationals gave a 24-hour notice to these Tanzanian village miners to abandon their mining areas.

An armed police raid in the area reportedly followed this order, which, according to one of the small miners, made them lose their mining equipment, even uncollected gold in the area!

Said a local reporter of a local TV station, quoting an affected local miner at that moment in time: “We have been abruptly expelled and 5,000 of us who were dependent on this work for a living do not know where to go. We appeal to our President, Ndugu Magufuli to come out to our support since he is always for the have-nots.”

And in the immediate intervening period, reports abound that relevant government authorities have moved to rectify this misnomer in the interest of the small-scale miners.

But reading between the lines, there is a bigger problem that needs to be addressed at national policy level.

Personally, I do not buy the “growth” of the Tanzanian economy as depicted by apparent global economic experts. What I buy is what I see myself, literally and physically, since I am a national of this country and live here.

As I raised the “bodaboda” phenomenon at the launch of this perspective, the naked fact is that the number of have-nots in my country is in the staggering majority, and the gap between the filthily rich minority and the staggering poor majority is alarming and is not something to be applauded.

Majority in our population have been turned into petty traders of “mitumba” or second-hand good of all sorts produced elsewhere and “bodaboda” transport is the only labor market at the disposal of the majority of our young people. We should not be complacent!

For another thing, what we earn for our minerals is nowhere close to equity shares with the multinationals of this world taking a lion share of the minerals from our own land.

Why we are still content with royalties and not equity shares while we are the actual owners of both the land and minerals is a question of great concern.

The least we should do now, and this is my appeal to the government of the day is to protect our indigenous small-scale miners that they are left in peace to do their work.

We should not succumb to pressures by multinationals who loot out everything from our soil as President Magufuli was able to put a stop the other day–what with those shiploads of our minerals he caught being shipped out of our country!

THREE days ago, a group ...

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Author: MAKWAIA WA KUHENGA

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