MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Gold mining kills the weak, the powerful survive

Published by MAC on 2005-07-18

Gold mining kills the weak, the powerful survive

GNA Feature by Christian Agubretu

18th July 2005

Accra - Train a gun on gold and declare that whoever attempts to take it will be shot and you will be surprised that you will be short of bullets. Many will fall dead or be wounded and yet the gold will vanish. One of the scramblers for the gold would take it away.

It is just like the goat saying: "Where the club flies up and down is where there is food."

So the troublesome goat will never leave a place where it can find its food even if it is hit with the club. Worse still, if in anger you throw the peel or a piece of cassava or yam at the goat, it will rather turn round to munch what had been thrown at it.

So is gold. So has it been the cause of the world's woes and joys.

Wherever gold is found there will be a scramble for it and many will damn the consequences. Since Ghana became a centre for gold mining and trading centuries ago, she has had its woes and joys.

Until the mid 20th century, European traders and Colonialists called Ghana the Gold Coast.

Europeans trooped to the Gold Coast to search for gold. Many things happened. The local people provided not only the labour but engaged actively in its trade.

Ghana is still one of the world's top gold producers. In 2001, Ghana mined 68,700 kilograms of gold (151,460 lbs), according to Encarta Encyclopaedia 2004. The Ghana Chamber of Mines says in 2004 the country produced 2,208,154 ounces of gold and earned revenue of 793,536,510 dollars.

Similarly, the Gold Rush of 1848 and 1849 in the United States led to many Europeans and Americans rushing to the West, that is California, leading to San Francisco becoming a ghost town when it was deserted by people who went in search of gold. The rush had had a profound effect on America. Many died in their long arduous journeys across the Plains. Those who worked the gold mines helped to open them up for settlement.

By 1851, in less than five years after the discovery of gold the mines added billions of dollars to the national wealth. Those billions helped to finance the growth of industry during the 19th century and helped to make the United States an industrialised nation.

It is Gold's superior electrical conductivity; its malleability and its resistance to corrosion that have made it vital to the manufacture of components used in a wide range of electronic products and equipment, including computers, telephones, cellular phones and home appliances. If gold is used as such why should its value fall on the world market? Has the price of airplanes ever fallen?

Again, if gold with its extraordinarily high reflective powers that are relied upon in the shield that protects spacecraft and satellites from solar radiation and in industrial and medical lasers that use gold-coated reflectors to focus light energy is so important, why should those whose land where it is found live in poverty and even in some cases fall prey to mining companies?

And because gold is biologically inactive, it has become a vital tool for medical research and is even used in the direct treatment of arthritis and other intractable diseases. Yet those in mining areas of Ghana are plagued with buruli ulcer, tuberculosis, cardiac and respiratory diseases.

Can Ghanaians underrate the value of gold with its properties, uses and value and fail to recognise its importance to the economy? It has helped in the building of schools, hospitals and roads but the question is has its mining been a blessing or a curse to the people?

Some non-governmental organisations have asked African governments to launch independent research into the mining industry to look at its cost-benefit to determine whether it is doing more harm than good or otherwise.

The Editorial of African Agenda Magazine, Volume 8 No. 2, 2005 on: "Obuasi Research Unearths Devastating Truths" dealt with a project the Third World Network (TWN) conducted in 2004. TWN commissioned independent researchers to find out the effects of AngloGold Ashanti operations in Obuasi.

"The conclusions of the report are not arguing for mining activities to stop; they call for a real cost-benefit analysis to be carried out, with benefit not meaning just the bottom line of the Company's annual accounts but of the health of the communities and the environment, the sustainability of industrial practices vis-à-vis the environment as a whole and the impact not only on the local community but on the country."

The ability of the mining companies to convincingly tell the world about their efforts at offering communities opportunities to earn a living and by providing them with facilities, which the communities could not have enjoyed had it not been their operations have gained grounds.

Thus even when the poor communities cry against the atrocities being perpetrated against them by the mining companies, their formidable public relations machinery muffle their screams rendering them too feeble to attract attention.

So the downtrodden continue to protest against cyanide spillages, blasting that leaves cracks in their buildings; contamination of their water sources and being forced to move away after they have been paid peanuts for their landed properties.

The question of whether the people are being given a fair deal seems not to bother people who are in position to influence decisions.

On July 6, 2005 the Ghana News Agency reported that the Residents of Himan and Prestea in the Western Region had asked that they should be relocated before Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL) began to mine the gold deposit discovered in the Township.

They said because of the discovery of the gold deposit BGL had relocated the Police Station, pulled down some bungalows and earmarked more for destruction while the only Shell Filling Station in the town had been demolished.

The Residents, who called a press conference at Prestea, during which some of the affected women shed tears because of what they called the inhuman treatment meted out to them by BGL the powers that be had failed to respond appropriately.

They said they had been suffering from the surface mining of BGL in Prestea and Himan in the Wassa Fiase Traditional Area. They said the Company had been blasting for gold outside the five-kilometre radius of their original concession.

Alhaji Baba Ahmed, Vice Chairman of Concerned Citizens of Prestea, flanked by Nana Nteful Akuma II, Mr Benjimaw Blay Kwofie, Acting Tufuhene, said the activities of the BGL were a threat to life and property.

"The blasting has left cracks in many buildings. Children fall off their beds, television sets and glasses fall off their stands and break while louvre blades crack, anytime there is a blast that shakes the earth."

He said the people in May 2002 rejected two separate environmental studies that they considered were injurious to them and yet the Company had gone ahead with its mining activities.

Alhaji Baba said despite the protests of the people and many meetings with the Company, BGL, because of its financial strength, had always made the people of Himan, Prestea and its environs look as if they were not human beings.

"On Wednesday June 15, this year the entire community and the surrounding villages embarked on a peaceful demonstration to register our protest, during which seven people were injured," he said.

Alhaji Baba said on the July 2 and July 3, BGL carried out a blast close to the Town and "the earth shook, dust particles shot up and covered the whole Township with its attendant health hazards to the people".

The activities of the Company were causing diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis, and asthma through air pollution.

He said the people were concerned about their health since no amount of money could buy life, and asked the Government to come to their aid.

Speaker after Speaker at the press conference bemoaned the woes that had befallen them since surface mining began in the area about three years ago.

They said pipelines were being broken and their drinking water was being polluted, threatening their very livelihood.

When the Public Relations Officer of BGL, Mr Magnus Adjah Kodjoe was contacted on phone, he declined to comment saying the Company would come out with a statement on the issue. The statement that he eventually released was nothing more than a public relations gimmick.

Reacting to the position of BGL, Mr Paul Gyasi, who runs a restaurant at Prestea, said; "that is why we are saying they don't value our lives because we are poor".

He said the areas earmarked for blasting for gold were close to the Volta River Transmission Station. But local officials of VRA, who spoke to the Ghana News Agency, said they could not measure the effect of the vibrations on the installation but they said the sub-station was safe.

The protests of the people led the Omanhene of Wassa Fiase Traditional Area, Osagyefo Kwamina Enimil VI, to order the Management of Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL) to suspend its operations at Prestea for two weeks.

The Omanhene also directed that a seven-member committee should be set up immediately to assess the operations of BGL and come out with a report within the same period to enable the Traditional Council to find an amicable solution to the problems between BGL and the Prestea community.

Osagyefo Kwamina Enimil gave the directive at a meeting held with chiefs and opinion leaders of the Prestea community and the Management of BGL.

The meeting was a follow-up to a previous meeting with the Omanhene by the Prestea community and BGL on how to find an amicable solution to the problems facing both the community and the Company.

He said the Seven-Member Committee would have representatives from BGL, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Minerals Commission, Mines Department, Prestea community and Wassa West District Assembly (WWDA).

The meeting, according to report, was attended by Nana Kwesi Boadi, Juantuahene of Himan, who was the Spokesman for the Himan and Prestea and
Nana Richard Hagan, Community Safety and Environment Manager of BGL, who represented the Management.

Nana Hagan told the gathering that the Company went through the right procedure before beginning operations.

He said every month government agencies like the EPA, Minerals Commission and the Mines Department assessed the activities of BGL and reports were sent to the Government. He added that since these agencies had not come out with any negative report about its operations, it had every right to work.

In his remarks to close the meeting, Osagyefo Kwamina Enimil did acknowledge that, since he and his Sub-Chiefs did not have the requisite technical knowledge to deal with the issues raised, he would invite the regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Minerals Commission and Mines Department to form a committee to investigate the substantive issues and come out with a report within two weeks.

He, therefore, entreated BGL to continue with its normal operations but not to expand further south to create discomfort to the people of Prestea. This, he noted, would help to restore peace in the area while the committee investigated the issues.

All that the people are asking for is that they should be relocated.

But all the same, the question is if the Gold Rush in 1849 in the US had contributed significantly to the industrialisation of the US within five years of gold mining can we say the same of Ghana? Can Ghana say it has derived maximum benefit from this valuable metal?

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