Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Tanzania: Farmers displaced by mining live like refugees

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

Source: IRIN

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 written 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 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.”

The country’s 2001 Land or Compensation Claims Regulation provides further clarity on compensation, stating that it may 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,” but affirmed 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.”

 The resettlement issue sparked a legal battle between Mine Mpya’s residents and Anglogold Ashanti. According to the company, no compensation was paid upon eviction because a High Court ruling found that “those on the land had no legal rights of occupancy.”

The villagers, however, continued their battle in the Court of Appeal and are still awaiting the final outcome. The case was scheduled for hearing on August 2012, but has since been delayed. 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 of mines, Ally Samaje, did not answer repeated requests for an interview.

New homes

Anglogold Ashanti said 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”.

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

Even if the construction of the houses goes ahead, it is questionable whether they will ever fully compensate for the lost lands and livelihoods of formerly self-sufficient farmers. 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”.

“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 said. “Companies should certainly not focus only on houses, land or financial compensation, but rather give consideration to the full spectrum of issues that sustain the livelihoods of communities… Most importantly, the process must be built around the expressed needs and priorities of the communities themselves.”