Tanzania: Farmers displaced by mining development live like refugees (IRIN)

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Mwajuma Hussein is a 75-year-old farmer from the village of Mine Mpya in Mtakuja Ward, part of Mwanza District in the Lake Victoria region. She says, “I was attacked by police at 5 a.m. They arrested three people and beat them, and then they dumped us here.” Mrs. Hussein is one of an estimated 250 people who were displaced from the village in 2007.

For the last six years, her home has been one of a cluster of makeshift tents constructed from plastic sheeting and bits of wood and metal on the outskirts of the northern Tanzanian town of Geita. Sophiatown, as the camp is known, resembles a refugee camp. Its residents are farming families, displaced in 2007 to make way for one of Tanzania’s largest gold mines.

John Majebele is an elderly man who lives in a small tent with his wife. He says, “Look at my house here made of paper. When it rains, the roof leaks, but I don’t have the money to fix it.” Mr. Majebele used to be a farmer, growing maize, beans, bananas and other crops. He now struggles to find work as a casual farm labourer in order to eat every day.

He recalls: “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 [60 US cents] for five bananas.”

The Sophiatown farmers are just a few of the thousands of Tanzanian families who have been forcefully relocated by mining activity in recent years. In this case, the farmers were evicted from their village by the Tanzanian government to make way for the Geita Gold Mine. The mine is operated by AngloGold Ashanti, a South Africa-based gold mining company, owned in turn by the multinational Anglo American.

According to Tanzania’s land laws, communities displaced by the State have the right to be properly compensated. This can be cash, land, or buildings of “comparable quality.” Compensation can include plants and seedlings, and also “regular supplies of grain and other basic foodstuffs.”

But a 2008 fact-finding mission found that many people did not understand how much compensation or what kind of compensation they should expect. In one case, a farmer was paid only 400,000 Tanzanian shillings (US$239) for his small plot of land, house, banana trees and cassava plants.

The residents of Sophiatown say they have not received any compensation for losing their farms. The mining company argues that the Tanzanian government is responsible for compensating and resettling the farmers. Geita Gold Mine says they have abided by the relevant laws, and have agreed to fund the construction of eighteen houses on “humanitarian grounds.” They say this decision has nothing to do with the legal case brought by the villagers against the company, which is currently waiting to be heard by the Tanzanian Court of Appeal.

The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) investigated the issues surrounding land use and ownership in Tanzania’s mining sector in 2011. Its report 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.”

A senior researcher at the SAIIA, Alex Benkenstein, notes that the resettlement of displaced communities is a contentious issue all over the world. Too simple an approach “inevitably leads to conflict.”

He says, “Companies may build houses that seem to be a vast improvement on traditional structures, but are suitable for small, nuclear families rather than the extended, communal living patterns often found in rural communities.” He adds, “Most importantly, the [compensation] process must be built around the expressed needs and priorities of the communities themselves.”

But Sophiatown’s residents are already losing hope. John Majebele says: “The government gave us a letter last July to say they will build houses for us. We have waited and waited and now we are tired. I feel very bad because I am still suffering six years later.”