MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Tragedy Strikes At Newmont

Published by MAC on 2005-10-20

Tragedy Strikes At Newmont

Michael Boateng and Clement Boateng Dokyikrom, Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra)

October 20, 2005

The dam constructed on Subri River by Newmont Ghana Gold Limited at Dokyikrom near Kenyasi in its Ahafo Project has become a death trap to the people living around the area.

Recently, two persons drowned when they were crossing the dam, using a heap of damp sand across it.

The construction of the water dam on River Subri had blocked the access road of the people in Dokyikrom area and cut off its surrounding hamlets.

The people in Dokyikrom and its environs were compelled to walk about seven miles, using a footpath around the water dam, to link up with other communities. The heap of damp sand across the dam however, made the distance shorter.

When The Chronicle visited the spot where Kofi Agyekum and Yaw Frimpong met their untimely death, it was evident that everybody who wanted to cross the dam would be tempted to use the heap of damp sand, regardless of the risk involved, due to the fact that it was a shorter route as compared to the winding seven-mile one.

Narrating the incident to the paper, the Odikro of Dokyikrom, Nana Kyei Bonsu, said the two were reported to have gone to the various hamlets at the other side of the dam to inform the people about a proposed meeting between Newmont and the people on several concerns, including the threat posed by the dam.

"The two sank into the deeper waters of the dam because the heap of sand had portions at its base eroded, leaving the two to struggle to death in the dam, after an attempt by an eyewitness to rescue them had failed," the Odikro said.

The police and the company's rescue team were alerted and the bodies of the two were recovered and conveyed to the mortuary.

Nana Kyei Bonsu intimated that the incident had clearly demonstrated how heartless the management of Newmont was towards the community, since several petitions had been sent to them about the inconveniences created by the construction of the dam.

Nana Kyei Bonsu stated that regardless of the plight of the people in the community, Newmont had failed to respond to any of the petitions.

He revealed that as the Odikro, the youth had, on several occasions, come to him, seeking permission to demonstrate against Newmont's "insensitivity" to their plight.

He believed that certain rituals should have been performed before the construction of the dam but Newmont refused to attend to his call, let alone perform those rites.

"This means that Newmont has total disrespect for our customs," he said, adding, " Before the corpses were conveyed to the mortuary we should have also performed some rituals but that was also ignored."

Nana Bonsu hinted that hundreds of children of school-going age had been denied access to education because it was difficult for them to walk an additional seven miles to school.

He stated that farmers on the other side of the dam faced difficulties in transporting their produce to the village.

Mid-way through the interview with Nana Bonsu, his elders and the community, the Asutifi DCE, Mr. Opoku Peperah in the company of the Brong Ahafo Regional Police Commander, ACP Opare-Addo, District Police Commander, DSP Allotey and some Newmont officials came to console the community.

Mr. Peperah admitted that though what had happened was very painful, it must be handled with care in order to avoid acts of lawlessness.

"No one knows whether that (what had happened) was their destiny, because it is impossible for us humans to escape our destiny," he said.

He pledged that he would facilitate the interaction between the community and Newmont and ensure that the right things were done.

A Communications Consultant to Newmont, Stephen Baffoe, denied there was a proposed meeting between the community and Newmont, hence the deceased were not sent by the company to disseminate information to the people.

He stated that the people had even been warned not to swim, fish, urinate or throw rubbish into the dam, indicating that signposts had been erected around the dam. However, when the Chronicle reporters went to the scene, no signpost was seen, especially at the particular spot where the incident occurred.

Mr. Baffoe admitted that there had been complaints about the residents inability to cross the dam but insisted that the people should use the seven-mile winding route created for them at the northernmost part of the dam.

He stated that Dokyikrom was not a part of the mine-take area but fell under concession. Therefore the company really had no business with people of Dokyikrom in particular, except some hamlets that fell within the mine-take area.

Mr. Baffoe said plans were far advanced to train the people around the dam on how to utilize the water in the dam for fish farming, irrigation and other water-driven income-generating activities.

On behalf of the Company, Mr. Baffoe extended his condolences to the families of the deceased and assured them that Newmont would not hesitate to assist the community when the need arose, "But for now, we are waiting for the results of the police's investigations," he added.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued and signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Daniel Owusu Koranteng, the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) had held Newmont directly responsible for the death of the two young men. It therefore called on Newmont Gold Ghana Limited to grant the demand of the people of Dokyikrom for resettlement, so as to end the violations of their rights, which could lead to more deaths in the future.

The statement recalled that the water problems of Dokyikrom and other problems associated with the construction of the dam on River Subri formed part of the community concerns that organizations like WACAM, League of Environmental Journalists, Earthworks, Global Response and Oxfam America raised with officials of Newmont at its headquarters in Denver, USA, early this year.

The statement expressed WACAM'S heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased, who had died because of the desire of Newmont Gold Ghana Limited to maximize its profit at the expense of nearby communities like Dokyikrom.

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