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
Blog by
24 April 2015

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 Nsangano.

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

Click on the image below to begin the slideshow. Click on the images or use the arrows at the bottom left to move through the images.

All the photographs in this collection were taken in the Geita District of Tanzania. Copyright: Brian Sokol/Panos Pictures.

Sian Lewis ( is staff writer at IIED.

1. A small amount of gold extracted from the small-scale Nsangano Gold Mine. The current price for an ounce of gold on global markets is US$1,2002. More than 3,000 people are employed at the Geita Gold Mine – an open cast mine operated by AngloGold Ashanti. From 2000 to 2013, the mine paid some US$683 million in direct contributions to the Tanzanian government through taxes and royalties3. The small-scale Nsangano Gold Mine in Mawemeru village employs nearly 100 people from local communities4. An artisanal mine in Mawemeru village. Artisanal and small-scale mines provide jobs and income for 20-30 million of the world's poorest people, with 100-150 million involved in related activities and more than half a billion family members impacted5. Wellington Moses is a dump truck operator at the large-scale Geita Gold Mine. He is proud to operate one of the biggest dump trucks in Tanzania: "It's a beautiful machine!"6. Workers sit outside the entrance to the small-scale Nsangano Gold Mine. Up to 20 per cent of the global gold supply is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners7. "There is no light inside [the pit at Nsangano]. We use torches to do our work." (Levocatus Saidi Bujiku, small-scale miner)8. Workers separate gold from the mix of other materials, as part of the extraction process at Nsangano Gold Mine9. Workers sift through rocks containing gold at Nsangano Gold Mine10. Women crush and separate rocks to extract gold ore at Nsangano Gold Mine11. Miners work deep within a tunnel at Nsangano gold mine. The mine works as a cooperative – when the gold ore extracted here is sold, the money made is shared equally among the workers12. Small-scale miner Levocatus Saidi Bujiku at Nsangano Gold Mine. "At Nsangano we work as a family… it is love that rules here."13. Workers rest in the back of a truck carrying bananas to market in Geita town. Gold mining in the area, both small- and large-scale, is a huge contributor to the local economy. Across the world, artisanal and small-scale miners can contribute 20 times more to GDP than those employed in farming, fishing and forestry14. Wellington Moses – dump truck operator at Getia Gold Mine – with his family at their home in Geita town15. Local businesswomen arrive to buy sacks filled with gold ore that have just been extracted from the tunnels of Nsangano Gold Mine16. Betty Bernard Kakulu is a geologist at Geita Gold Mine. Around 40 per cent of her salary each month goes to supporting her mother and siblings, who live 300km away17. Children gather in Mawemeru village, where gold mining is the main livelihood and helps to provide education for some18. Mawemeru village elder, Simon Sebastian Sangano, is both a miner and a farmer: "I work in my garden after which I go to my mine pits." Across the world, artisanal miners are often seasonal, with mining providing income to supplement and support farming activities