Magazine article Newsweek International

The Dark Side: Dead for Dollars; While Free-Market Reforms Spur Growth, They've Also Created Mining Hellholes beyond Even Weak Regulation

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Dark Side: Dead for Dollars; While Free-Market Reforms Spur Growth, They've Also Created Mining Hellholes beyond Even Weak Regulation

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Masland

A kilometer down the narrow shaft, black dust fills the air. Sweaty young miners stoned on marijuana and the narcotic khat pick at the walls. They crawl without respirators, food or water, hunting in the light of flashlights strapped to their heads. When they climb out exhausted after a 15-hour overnight shift, they hawk and spit, and gulp a drink in an effort to clear their lungs. Some sleep for days in the depths to raise the odds of striking gem-quality tanzanite. Many are paid with food and whatever gems they can smuggle out--the mine owner is supposed to get the whole take. "We were born to suffer," says Jacob Johnson, 26. "If you want money, you have to go to the rock." On a wall behind him a graffito declares: DEAD FOR THE DOLLARS $.

Private-sector growth is producing new problems in Africa, even as it alleviates poverty. Grubstake mining in the Leletoma Hills of northern Tanzania is one raw example. After the government scrapped the moribund State Mining Corporation in the mid-'80s, some 20,000 unlicensed miners descended on the world's only deposit of tanzanite, a trendy blue or violet gemstone with total sales of more than $200 million last year. The state cleared the area in 1990 and designated five areas for private enterprise. Mining last year became Tanzania's leading export, and a South African outfit with a tanzanite concession has become the world's largest producer. But tunnels dug by small-scale miners surround the modern operators, creating hellholes more dangerous than the shoddy old state mine. In 2003 heavy rains led to cave-ins that killed more than 100 miners. …

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