- HOLWERD, The Netherlands
- Some African leaders -- including the besainted Nobel Peace Laureate
Nelson Mandela -- are apparently still closing their eyes to the New African
Slavery markets -- namely the ones at the coltan mud mines of the eastern
Congo and the informal tanzanite gemstone mines near Arusha, below the
snows of Mount Kilimanjaro inTanzania.
- Coltan is fuelling Congo's civil war, the UN recently
warned that this black eastern Congolese mud -- ($80 per kilo, refined
into tantalum for cellphones and laptops) -- had already created a new
African slave trade. However the UN did not mention the thousands of child
slaves lowered into impromptu mineshafts to claw out the exquisite tanzanite
gemstone of Tanzania.
- A scathing report this spring to the United Nations
Security Council said that coltan 's illegal mine earnings perpetuates
Congo's civil war -- which was "mainly about access, control and
trade'' of minerals, the most important being coltan. The one thing that
unites the warring parties, according to the report, is a keen interest
in making money off coltan.
- The Sunday Times reported (August 12, 2001) that coltan
mud is so important to the Western world that the wireless world would
grind to a halt without it: refined in American and European factories
into tantalum, a superb conductor of electricity, highly resistant to
heat. Tantalum powder is a vital ingredient in the manufacture of capacitors,
the electronic components that control the flow of current inside miniature
circuit boards. Capacitors made of tantalum can be found inside almost
every laptop, pager, personal digital assistant and cell phones.
- A coltan miner can produce a kilogram of mud sludge
a day. Earlier this year, that was worth $80 -- a remarkable bounty in
a region where most people live on 20 cents a day.
- Late last year, exploding demand for tantalum powder
created a temporary worldwide shortage, which contributed to Sony's difficulties
in getting its new PlayStation 2 into American stores, as well as to a
tenfold price increase on the world tantalum market.
- Thousands of Congolese walked into the Ituri forest
hoping to get rich quick. It also created a new slavery market at the
mining camps, the New York Times reported.
- The Congo is a nation in name only. The World Health
Organization recently estimated that the monthly toll of ''avoidable deaths''
in Congo was 72,800.
- Blood-Tanzanite gems:
- And the world's permanent love-affair with exquisite
gemstones has also created another new African slave trade. And many
of these slaves are small children, clawing out tanzanite gemstone ore
from hastily dug, unsupported, 300-metre deep mineshafts with their bare
- In the dirt-poor East-African country of Tanzania ,
this new African slavery market has been allowed to blossom without any
government intervention - although a Marxist dictatorship has been in
place in Tanzania for many years and in fact often is praised for its
benign leadership and its international peace keeping efforts.
- Arusha in Tanzania has thus also become the home base
for Nelson Mandela, to conduct his Congo peace brokering efforts from.
- A South African journalist from the Afrikaans-language
Beeld newspaper in Johannesburg in August this year visited Arusha's legal
mining operation -- Afgem -- a highly-skilled South African company, licensed
by the Tanzanian government.
- Afgem invested $20-million in its hi-tech, legally-licensed
and safe mining operation. The Tanzanite gemstones from this mine - to
the tune of about $18-million annually -- are cut, polished and professionally
laser-marked primarily for the American gem market, where the demand for
the gem's truly unique beauty far outstrips market availability. It sells
for at least $8000 per carat in New York -- often more.
- Afgem also reported the considerable troubles they were
having with their desperate neighbours: more than 40,000 people packed
into a huge, squalid shanty-settlement, many refugees from African wars,
living in disease-ridden poverty, who sell their daily ore to the owners
of the territory: the Masai pastoral tribalists.
- The tribesmen sell the informal miners' ore to Arusha's
gem dealers -- who smuggle these "blood-tanzanites" primarily
to the United States, to the tune of $300-million annually. These illegal
gems are mined by these desperately hungry African refugees and thousands
of their children -- and when the monsoon rains come, these "miners"
even have been reported to have drowned inside their incredibly unsafe
mine shafts. Estimates of such deaths range from 100 to 200 deaths, and
many of these "miners" were children.
- Because of its uniqueness and truly exquisite blue-purple
bronze glow, tanzanite quickly became one of the most sought-after gemstones
in the world when it was first discovered by the Masai 24 years ago.
- The Beeld journalist visiting the diggings in August
this year, saw a great many child slaves digging away. He didn't call
them slaves, but that's what they were: the children are lowered into
the holes which unskilled informal miners dig often only with picks and
- They dig horridly dangerous, unsupported holes -- many
as deep as 300 meters -- into which thousands of small children are lowered
to dig out the ore. The little ones fit into the dangerous, unsupported
shafts so much easier. For their troubles, they might get $2 a month,
often paid in a daily meal, according to a trade unionist and a child
welfare spokesman of the Tanzanian government, interviewed by the journalist.
These children don't go to school, there are neither Tanzanian government
schools nor health clinics for them -- in spite of rampant Aids and TB,
and desperate malnutrition among all these refugees, which lead to widespread
prostitution and spreads Aids into the Tanzanian population.
- The Beeld journalist reported the deep concern felt
by the South Africans at the Afgem mining operation next door about these
terrible conditions -- but it also became clear that Afgem is not only
being blamed for their own plight by the informal miners next door --
Afgem also cannot intervene by trying to improve the social conditions,
or even provide engineering advice, as this would undoubtedly be interpreted
as criticising the internal affairs of another country: Tanzania.
- What is most puzzling, is that the Tanzanian government
also seems totally incapable of stopping the ongoing child labour and
even the reported enslavement of small children who are forced to work
in these impromptu and highly dangerous mineshafts, dug by inexperienced
- Amnesty International in The Netherlands (K.Henrard@rechten.rug.nl
Amnesty International Africa Desk The Netherlands) this week was formally
asked (by me) to probe these mining conditions at the informal tanzanite
mines of Arusha -- and which conditions are identical to those still found
in Angola's illegal diamond diggings today, and also in the Congo.
- The infamous Blood Diamond trade also flourished for
years under these conditions, also causing the tragedy at its export harbor
of Sierra Leone. (which has no diamonds of its own, but exports them).
Along this entire route, the Blood diamond trade funded and fuelled years
of vicious "warlord" warfare, atrocities by "rebel child
soldiers", years of terrible bloodshed and slavery -- and the most
horrifying genocides the world had indeed witnessed in front of its TV
cameras, such as at Rwanda. Until recently, the world seemed helpless
to stop this Blood diamond trade until the British government stepped
in and intervened in Sierra Leone.
- I asked Amnesty International to prevail upon the Tanzanian
government to step in and improve the sociological conditions of the informal
miners -- to improve the sociological conditions, to set up teaching facilities
for the miners -- perhaps with the expertise of the South African mining
experts of Afgem next door -- in which these informal mineworkers working
legal Tanzanite claims, could be shown how to mine safely, and also be
provided proper materials and legal sales outlets to thus offer their
gems under free-market conditions.
- I urged Amnesty International to ask the Tanzanian government
to set up government schools and health facilities for these refugees
and immediately stop the child slavery.
- Many of these people are from other African regions --
and as refugees they should also be helped by the International Red Cross
and the UN-Foodaid agencies.
- Twice in the past four years, terrible storms had many
of these "miners" -- 90% were small children and sub-teens --
flee into these hell-holes where several hundreds reportedly drowned when
they were flooded.
- The Afgem personnel report that the informal mine shafts
are death traps, yet children are sent into them with impunity even today.
- The informal miners are clearly blaming Afgem for their
terrible plight, judging by their actions against this South African mining
compound and referring to their "apartheid-era" background --
but it's the Tanzanian government which should be taking the direct responsibility.
They sold the informal mining claims next to Afgem -- and the Tanzanian
government should accept the responsibility for conditions there.
- Tanzanian government cites "low labor costs"
as an investment advantage:
- The Tanzanian government this month launched a major
charm offensive in Washington DC (see: http://www.washtimes.com/world/20010906-75538548.htm)
to draw new investors, citing the country's " low labor costs "
as one of the enducements for new investments in the dirt-poor Marxist-run
- And I also wonder why Nobel Peace Laureate Nelson Mandela
-- who visits Arusha frequently in his attempts to broker a peace in
the Congo -- could also not probe the informal tanzanite mines and let
us know what he thinks about this new form of African Slavery?
- Let's hope that Mandela will not merely cite that permanent
African mantra -- and once again blame this new African slavery on "poverty,
multinational companies, greedy Western capitalists" -- or even that
biggest African bugbear of all, namely " apartheid"?
- Isn't it high time that all African leaders -- and
starting with Tanzania's -- also start accepting their own responsibilities
for this terrifying new African Slave trade inside their own countries?
- Adriana Stuijt is a retired SA medical journalist firstname.lastname@example.org