The battle in Tanzania between mining giant AFGEM, the South African mining concern that has leased the largest and most productive block of the Meralani tanzanite deposit, and local Arusha miners has escalated into murder.
Because of AFGEM’s branding strategy for tanzanite, the local miners claim that AFGEM is undermining the market for their non-branded production. This along with resentment of AFGEM’s control of the best and biggest portion of the mine has created a violent situation, with now confirmed reports of protesting miners being shot and killed.
According to local news reports, the incident began when AFGEM guards shot dead miner Emmanuel Obed, age 17. The reports also state that Obed was the second such victim in less than a month.
Joanne Herbstein, corporate communications officer for AFGEM, says the mining company had nothing to do with the murder.
She says a group of approximately 300 local miners staged what she terms a ”harassment episode” at block C, AFGEM’s mining lease. This was described as a stone-throwing incident. According to Herbstein, AFGEM’s security policy is to let the local police handle any episodes. In this particular instance, the police were called in and Herbstein says that they managed the disturbance.
”Our security team had absolutely nothing to do with the incident,” says Herbstein. ”Aside from being available to support the police had they been instructed to do so, I know that Mr. Obed died during the incident and it is an absolute tragedy.”
Obed and a group of locals reportedly trespassed AFGEM’s property in protest to what they believe is an unfair lease agreement. They blame the government as much as they do AFGEM. Local miners want AFGEM to move off the property, relocate to a different site. Block C is obviously the most important mining area, which everyone would want to have access to. AFGEM doesn’t believe that it has done anything improper by leasing the property from the government. They have also stated that their branding of tanzanite is not intended to promote only their goods, but can be used by all tanzanite merchants.