“We deal in Minerals and Money.” A young brash miner yelled proudly in my direction.
Artisanal gold mining in Tanzania involves unregulated, low-cost, low-tech, labour intensive excavation and processing of gold. Those with limited education or those who just want to make a quick buck, turn to the trade.
Equipped with a makeshift head-torch and a simple hammer and pick, miners descend as deep as 600metres underground with no safety equipment or breathing apparatuses.
It is as dangerous as it sounds. Many perish yearly at the mercy of the mines, however the risk doesn’t deter. The mining shaft is permanently in peak hour with men jumping throughout day and night. David, a long-time miner, suggests that to work on the roads as a Motorcycle Taxi in Tanzania could possibly be a more dangerous profession.
Majority of small-scale mining takes place on unlicensed, unauthorised mines. Some unlicensed mines exist for many years and are usually controlled by the land owner or a prominent community member. Other “gold rushes” spring up quickly and exist for a few months, typically on land owned by another individual or mining company. Communities rush to these areas when there is news of someone striking gold and settle there until the deposit depletes or until they are evicted by local authorities. 1
Makeshift housing with plastic bag facades are built to support the temporary residents, although crudely constructed, the dwellings can be homes for as long as 5 years.
The mining process is laborious. After excavating the rocks from the earth, rice-bags full are transported by bicycle down muddy paths. The rocks are then hand-beaten into smaller fragments before being run through a crushing machine where the remnants are sifted and panned using mercury to find any gold. This entire process bar use of the crushing machine is at the expense of manual human labour.
The biggest risk to human health occurs when the workers burn off the mercury in order to release the gold from the amalgam (Gold and Mercury combination). This creates an invisible toxic gas but few take even basic precautions to protect themselves or others. 2
Despite the marginally higher wages artisanal miners in Tanzania earn compared with other trades, when asked if it would be a profession fit for his children, David the long-term miner replied that he would rather his children be a doctor or teacher.
1 & 2. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/tanzania0813_ForUpload_0.pdf