Blog Entry

Backgrounder: Bulyanhulu

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

In northwestern Tanzania, in the Shinyanga region, there is a massive gold mining area called Bulyanhulu, just south of Lake Victoria.

Since the 1980's Bulyanhulu has been mined by small-scale local artisans who had questionable rights to mine. However, the government tolerated their mining practices. Some miners even paid taxes on their pits and invested in local communities. The average income of the small-scale miners was the highest in the Shinyanga region. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 400,000 small-scale miners worked in over 250 pits in Bulyanhulu and supported a strong local economy.

However, in the early 1990s, Kahama Mining, a subsidiary of Sutton Resources Inc. of Canada, acquired exploration rights to the area. In 1996, Kahama mining wanted to build a large gold mine, and therefore began to evict the local people from the mines and land around Bulyanhulu. Although the residents had been there for many years, they were considered squatters.

The Tanzanian High Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the eviction of the independent miners. Still, the Tanzanian police moved in and started clearing out the locals in August of 1996. Police reports note that over 200,000 people were evicted in the first two weeks of August.

On August 12, 1996, witnesses say that more than 50 miners were buried alive as Kahama Mining used bulldozers to fill the open mining shafts with dirt, even though the court order halting evictions pending furhter investigation was announced over the radio that morning.

There has not been an independent investigation into these serious allegations. People in Tanzania have been prosecuted for speaking out and demanding an inquiry into the allegations. The bodies of those alleged to be missing have not been recovered, and police refuse to dig up the mine pits.

Barrick Gold bought the Bulyanhulu mine from Sutton Resources, Kahama Mining's parent company for 500 million Canadian in 1999. Barrick claims to have proof (never made public) that the killings never happened. However, LEAT (Lawyer's Environmental Action Team) has a different opinion.

There is substantial evidence that some miners were buried alive during the mine clearing operations. Such evidence needs to be accounted for and considered in a full-scale independent investigation on the forced removal and possible deaths of small-scale miners at Bulyanhulu in August 1996.