Tanzanian farmers displaced by mining live like refugees*

Mwajuma Hussein, 75, has been displaced for six years. Photo: Zahra Moloo
Mwajuma Hussein, 75, has been displaced for six years. Photo: Zahra Moloo

IRIN News, June 2013

GEITA, 3 June 2013 (IRIN) – On the outskirts of the northern Tanzanian town of Geita sits a cluster of makeshift tents constructed from plastic sheeting and bits of wood and metal. The area, which resembles a refugee camp and is known by residents as Sophiatown – or colloquially, Darfur – is inhabited by farming families who were displaced in 2007 to make way for one of the country’s largest gold mines.

“[One day in 2007] I was attacked by police at 5am,” Mwajuma Hussein, a 75-year-old farmer from the village of Mine Mpya in Mtakuja Ward, told IRIN. “They arrested three people and beat them, and then they dumped us here.” Hussein is one of an estimated 250 people displaced from the village. This camp has been her home for the past six years.

“Look at my house here made of paper,” said John Majebele, an elderly man who lives in a small tent with his wife. “When it rains, the roof leaks, but I don’t have the money to fix it.”

Majebele used to be a farmer, growing maize, beans, bananas and other crops on land he says he inherited from his parents. Now he is no longer self-sufficient; he struggles to find work as a casual farm labourer in order to eat every day. “I had two acres of my own land and could rely on myself. When I needed bananas, I would just cut, cook and eat them. Now I have to go to the market and pay 1,000 shillings [US$0.60] for five bananas, so I look for casual labour. If I don’t find it, I don’t eat,” he told IRIN.

The residents of Mine Mypa were evicted by the Tanzanian government to make way for the Geita Gold Mine (GGM), operated by gold mining company Anglogold Ashanti, which is headquartered in South Africa. In a letter to IRIN, the company said that the village lay within the mine’s Special Mining License area.

The Sophiatown farmers are just a few of the thousands of Tanzanian families who have been forcefully relocated by mining activity in recent years.

Compensation claims and legal battles

According to Tanzania’s land laws, displaced communities have the right to be properly compensated. The 1999 Land Act Act specifies that there should be “full, fair and prompt compensation to any person whose right of occupancy or recognized long-standing occupation or customary use of land is revoked or otherwise interfered with to their detriment by the state.” It adds that “the duty to pay compensation” lies with “the government department of Ministry, local or public authority or corporate body which applied for the public right of way.”

The country’s 2001 Land or Compensation Claims Regulation provides further clarity on compensation, stating that it may, “at the option of the government,” take the form of monetary compensation or a combination of plots or buildings of “comparable quality,” plants and seedlings, and/or “regular supplies of grain and other basic foodstuffs.”

But a 2008 fact-finding mission by religious leaders in Tanzania found that the form and scope of compensation due to those displaced in some areas cleared to make way for Geita Gold Mine was unclear to those who received it. In one case, an evictee was paid only 400,000 Tanzanian shillings (US$239) “for his half-acre land with a house, banana trees and cassava plants.”

The residents of Sophiatown say that they have not received any compensation for losing their farms. Anglogold Ashanti said, “Responsibility for carrying over compensation and resettling the affected parties rested with the Tanzanian state,” adding that “GGM has observed the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act (1967) and Land Act (1999) regarding compensation and resettlement activities within the GGM Special Mining License Area.”

According to Anglogold Ashanti, in 1999, initial compensation paid to other communities in Mtakuja ward amounted to 39,850,000 Tanzanian shillings (US $ 2.5 million).

According to the company, the Mine Mpya area was “fully assessed and covered in the compensation exercise conducted between 1998 and 2000,” but “after a lack of action to resettle the families by the state,” the matter was taken to court where it was found that “those on the land had no legal rights of occupancy and an eviction process ensued…no compensation was paid by the state.”

The villagers, however, continued their battle with the government to have the ruling reviewed, and are still awaiting the final outcome from the Court of Appeal that was due in August 2012.

Advocates for the displaced people were unable to disclose information about the legal proceedings, but in a 2008 report written in partnership with Norwegian Church Aid, villagers complained of corruption and suspicious meetings “behind closed doors” involving their attorney, the judge and lawyers representing the company.

Tanzania’s commissioner for minerals, Ally Samaje, did not answer repeated requests for an interview.

New homes

Anglogold Ashanti said that the Ministry of Energy and Minerals approached Geita Gold Mine in 2011 seeking support to resettle 18 families from Mine Mpya, and that in April 2013, Geita Gold Mine “agreed with local authorities and the Tanzanian Government to fund the construction of 18 houses for the displaced residents at a cost of US $ 450 000 or 999 million Tanzanian shillings.”

Such a decision, the company told IRIN, was made “regardless of the matter being in the court of law because the initiative was based on humanitarian grounds.” They added that “construction was awarded to Exactline Tanzania,” would take “approximately six months” and had begun in May 2013.

A complex problem

A 2011 report by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) investigated the land factor in Tanzania’s mining sector; it stated that people’s “sense of belonging to their ancestral lands and burial grounds of their forefathers is an element that cannot be compensated for” and that “the issue is aggravated by the reality that the platform for negotiating compensation in Tanzania is not level”.

The company said that future compensation exercises for displaced communities will include a “shift away from cash payments to a land-for-land basis, in addition to support for economic resettlement activities.”

Alex Benkenstein, senior researcher at the SAIIA, told IRIN that the resettlement of displaced communities is a contentious issue all over the world, from Papua New Guinea to Peru and Australia, and that a “simplistic, formulaic” approach “inevitably leads to conflict”.

“Resettlement of communities is a highly complex process that requires consideration of economic, social and cultural issues. The land that communities are moved to may appear similar, but differences in soil fertility, water availability, access to roads and markets and a variety of other factors can have serious implications for the community’s wellbeing,” he said. “Successful resettlement is possible, but it requires a highly sensitive and respectful approach. Most importantly, the process must be built around the expressed needs and priorities of the communities themselves.”


*This article underwent substantial revisions on 11 June to improve its accuracy

Theme (s): Economy, Human Rights, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]