Gold for life

Images from Geita District in northwest Tanzania show the diverse range of people that depend on gold mining for their livelihood.

Sian Lewis's picture
Insight by 
Sian Lewis
IIED staff writer until 2016.
24 April 2015
Miners work deep within a tunnel at Nsangano gold mine in the Geita District (Photo: copyright Brian Sokol/Panos Pictures)

Miners work deep within a tunnel at Nsangano gold mine in the Geita District (Photo: copyright Brian Sokol/Panos Pictures)

Ten days ago, news of an artisan gold mine collapse in northwest Tanzania provided a harsh reminder of the precarious nature of this livelihood. Less than 100km away, in the country's Geita District, artisanal miner Levocatus Saidi Bujiku is all too aware of the danger he faces every time he climbs down the 26-meter ladder to the small pit where he works.

"I fear very much that I will get hurt in my work," he says, "and be unable to take care of my family."

But Levocatus chooses to mine because it is the best way he can make ends meet. His colleague, Fortunatus Waziri, agrees: "Being a driver or a teacher requires education and I am not educated… So I mine."

Both Levocatus and Fortunatus mine to live. Their low earnings ensure that they can put food on the table and a roof over their heads, send their children to school and look after their parents and grandparents in their old age.

Levocatus and Fortunas are just two of thousands whose livelihoods depend on Geita's gold.

"In our area there is no other business than gold," explains village elder Simon Sebastian Nsangan.

No description available.

The Geita District of Tanzania (Map: Sémhur, via CC BY-SA 3.0)

More than 3,000 people work for the large-scale open pit Geita mine operated by AngloGold Ashanti – as drillers, drivers, geologists, technicians and project managers, among other roles. Hundreds more work in small-scale mines or as individual artisanal miners.

Then there are those who are employed in processing and transporting the gold – including washers, rock crushers and drivers – and those who make a living from buying and selling gold, both within the local community and beyond.

Typically, around five times more people are involved in related activities in the chain. Local traders of a range of goods and services depend on the gold mining community. And, whether working at a large- or small-scale site, many miners use their income to support far away relatives across Tanzania.

Fortunatus paints a strong picture of Geita's gold: "If mining activities are stopped here, life would be very poor. Every one of us depends on mining."

Done badly, gold mining can be catastrophic for people and the environment. But for the people of Geita, gold is not a luxury – it is a basic necessity. We cannot deal with the challenges, without recognising these realities.

Photo gallery

About the author

Sian Lewis was staff writer at IIED until June 2016.

Sian Lewis's picture