Tanzania: One dies in Mara gold rush

But villagers report 3 dead

THE crack field force unit (FFU) has confirmed killing at least one civilian and wounding several others when between 500 and 600 villagers are alleged to have invaded North Mara Gold mine, ostensibly to grab gold sand last Wednesday night, the Daily News can report.

However, eyewitness accounts and local leaders claim at least three people are said to have been killed in the clashes — who include a six-year-old boy — although police still insist they killed only one person and injured three others.

In another development, University of Dar es Salaam environment experts have confirmed what appears to have triggered the latest stand-off between the villagers and the mining interests the River Tigithe is severely polluted with heavy metals.

“Police fired so much tear-gas and so many gunshots to prevent the villagers from invading the mine and ran out of ammunition stock and had to rush for more bullets,” the Tarime Regional Police Commander (RPC), Constantine Masawe, told reporters yesterday morning. He identified the dead villager as Mwita Chacha Matiko (35), a resident of Kewanja village.

Matiko was hit on the back and he died on the spot, he said, adding that three villagers suffered serious bullet wounds during the fracas.He named the injured villagers as Amina Musa Marwa (20), Chacha Nyamakoma Marwa (18) and Mwita Kubio Mbusiro, saying the latter in particular suffered serious bullet wounds in his private parts.

The villagers allegedly pelted the police officers with stones, injuring at least four of them who were later rushed at a nearby health centre, he added.RPC Masawe who has been promoted from Tarime Officer Commanding District (OCD) to become the RPC of the newly-created Tarime regional police command post, identified his injured officers as D9279 Corporal Tahiri, D4650 Corporal Henry, G1255 PC Ally and Assistant Inspect of Police Julias Mshumbuzi.

He added that anti-riot police had since tightened security within the areas adjacent to the mine since Wednesday.Similar skirmishes occurred last December, when a civilian was shot dead and mine equipment worth millions damaged when some 400 villagers are said to have clashed with the mine security officials.

The Wednesday incident comes when the North Mara mine site is accused of discharging large amounts of harmful chemicals into the River Tigite, which the villagers blame for killing several people and hundreds of livestock in the surrounding villages.

However, University of Dar es Salaam researchers have since ruled out any connection between some ailments among the village residents, saying there was need for wider research to ascertain such claims. Even then, Dr Mkabwa Manoko and Manfred Bitala, who were commissioned by the Christian Council of Tanzania, last May faulted an internal report by Barrick Gold Tanzania Limited for declaring the water is safe for human use.

The two researchers now say in their findings released only yesterday that Barrick — which owns the North Mara gold mine seems to have based its report on pH (power of Hydrogen) findings, not on the effects of heavy metals and dangerous chemicals such as Cyanide used in the mining operations.

For examples, the levels of Ni (nickel) has risen 260 times, Pb (lead) was 168 times and Cr (cadmium) 14 times .. these pollutants come from waste rocks of the projects tailing dams. It has been documented that both heavy metals and Cyanide pose both environmental and health problems to humans, Bitala told a news conference in Dar es Salaam yesterday.

He said their report compared levels of heavy metals in the river in 2002, when Barrick did an environmental management plan to monitor use of chemicals at its gold mining project. Barrick issued a scientific water analysis report earlier this year, which suggested that the River Tigithe was not contaminated and that its waters were suitable for human use with an average pH of between 6 and 7.2 — which Dr Manoko accepted as genuine.

But arguing that water from river Tigithe is safe for human use simply basing on pH findings is wrong because there are heavy metals and microbes, which cannot be determined by such kind of scientific analysis, he argued.

Daily News

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