At Tanzanian Gold Mine, Life is Cheap

  1. At Least Seven Dead, 15 Wounded

    At Least Seven Dead, 15 Wounded

    Gold's longest bull market in at least 90 years has brought both prosperity and death to villagers living near Barrick Gold's (ABX) North Mara mine. Located along Tanzania's border with Kenya, the mine, which produced $204.8 million in revenue in 2009, has brought riches to the Tanzanian government. Every day it disgorges more than 100 million pounds of waste rock. Desperately poor villagers pick through this rubble in search of the occasional fleck of gold they can sell to support their families. Few signs mark where the mine's property ends and the village begins.

    The mine's security guards have beaten or shot villagers they considered trespassers, according to interviews with 27 people, including victims' relatives, witnesses, local officials, and human rights workers. Over the past two years, at least seven people have been killed at the mine and 15 seriously wounded, Bloomberg News reports. The dead include a father of four, a 17-year-old boy, and a young husband trying to provide for his pregnant wife. Barrick declined to comment on most incidents and said the company was "generally constrained from confirming precise figures" because the cases "involve potential crimes and may be subject to ongoing or potential investigation." These deaths have led to riots by the villagers and work stoppages at the mine. So far no one has been arrested. Meanwhile, Barrick continues to mine, its guards continue to patrol, and the villagers continue to risk their lives scavenging through the rubble.

    Click here to see the faces of the dead and their families.
  2. In the Shadow of North Mara Mine

    In the Shadow of North Mara Mine

    Houses in Kiwanja village are a short distance from the North Mara mine, where huge piles of waste rock attract impoverished miners in search of gold. In 1996, Kiwanja and four other villages sold the mining rights to Afrika Mashariki, an Australian mining company now known as East African Gold Mines, for $12,000 each. The villages' payments amounted to less than 1/500th of the estimated $3.2 billion of reserves at North Mara mine at the beginning of the year. Barrick (ABX) acquired the mine in 2006.
  3. Dying Over Rubble

    Dying Over Rubble

    A bulldozer moves rubble as villagers search for waste rocks containing flecks of gold at the North Mara mine. Tensions between Barrick and local residents erupted in December 2008, when the company said a group of people “invaded” one pit after it had been blasted for ore and burned $7 million of equipment and cost the mine several days of production.
  4. A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse

    A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse

    North Mara mine security forces chase a boy, right, from a mound of waste rock. Contract security guards and federal police have shot and beaten subsistence miners who scavenge the gold-laced rock to sell for food and clothing. If scavengers are caught, security guards and police do not arrest them or take them to court, says Machage Bartholomew Machage, a member of the local district council. "They are just shooting them," he says.
  5. Backbreaking, Dangerous Work

    Backbreaking, Dangerous Work

    A villager searches for gold contained in discarded waste rock from the North Mara mine. Before the multinationals moved in to mine the area, an estimated 40,000 people depended on small-scale mining for their livelihoods.

  6. Flecks of Hope

    Flecks of Hope

    A gold buyer weighs gold pellets with metal hand scales in Nyangoto, Tanzania. Gold prices have risen almost threefold in the past five years, reaching a record $1,431.25 on Dec. 7 and creating tension between behemoth multinationals and their poor neighbors.

  7. Sifting for Gold

    Sifting for Gold

    A villager uses mercury and water to sift rock powder for gold particles near the North Mara mine. As much as 40 percent of the local population survives on less than 33¢ a day, the Tanzanian government estimated in 2005. Other than subsistence farming, the flakes of gold in waste rocks are one of their few sources of income.
  8. Shot in the Leg

    Shot in the Leg

    Joseph Ikaya Mgaya says that police at the mine approached him and fired a single shot into his right leg without warning or provocation. He carries a letter in his pocket from the general secretary of his village that requests police officers to stop harassing him. "Please don't disturb him, he is sick and I have checked his documents and they are legal," it reads.
  9. A Promising Life

    A Promising Life

    Marita Nyamakono, grandmother of 17-year-old Chacha Nyamakono, sits at the family home near Mrito, Tanzania. The teen was the first in his family to attempt to get an education and always had his nose in his books, says a relative. After he was allegedly killed by gunfire from mine security on July 8, 2009, the family burned his school papers and notebooks, saying they were too-painful reminders of him.
  10. Leaving a Family Behind

    Leaving a Family Behind

    Eunice Werema, right, the widow of Mwita Werema, sits at home with her children in Kiwanja village, Tanzania. On Oct. 15, 2009, her husband was shot and killed by security forces at the mine, according to a friend who was with him. The victim's widow says her husband used to tell her: "If they catch me one day, I'm sure they will kill me."

  11. Alleged Attack

    Alleged Attack

    Rhoda Muhere, the widow of Muhere Biraro, looks through family photos that show her husband. He died after allegedly being attacked by security guards at the North Mara mine on March 20.
  12. Scavenging to Pay for Meat and Milk

    Scavenging to Pay for Meat and Milk

    The widow of Christopher Jakuo (center, back row) stands with her family at her husband's grave. Jakuo, 42, died on June 3, 2009, after being shot by security forces at the North Mara mine, according to his widow and local and human rights officials.
  13. Chased by Guards

    Chased by Guards

    Ngoka Chacha holds a photo of his late son, Mwita Ngoka, seen standing with family members. The younger man, 20, was looking for gold with friends on April 10 when security forces chased them and shot his son, says Chacha.

  14. Your Father

    Your Father

    Daudi Nyagabure, shown in a photo at his family's home in Nyangoto, Tanzania, died after being shot by mine security forces on Feb. 2, according to his father and local and human rights officials. The 21-year-old had one child and was expecting another.

  15. Daddy's Never Coming Home

    Daddy's Never Coming Home

    Mama Bhoke, widow of Mohono Marwa, holds a family photograph of her late husband (right, back row) at her home in Kigonga, Tanzania. "There is awareness amongst communities about the fact that the gold price is so high, but that very little of the benefit from that seems to be coming to them," says Keith Slack, Washington-based head of Oxfam America's extractive industries program, which works on global security and human rights issues.