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Last Updated: Friday, 4 April, 2003, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Anger grows in Mali's gold town
By Joan Baxter
BBC Focus On Africa magazine

Smelting gold bars in Mali's Morila mine
Workers feel they have felt few benefits from the mine
Despite being one of the most productive gold mines in the world, the Morila mine in Mali - run jointly by two South African mining giants - is stirring great controversy in the country.

During a dramatic third quarter last year, gold production tripled and in just 12 weeks, Morila produced more than a quarter of Mali's entire annual haul.

"It's a bonanza," says Johan Botha, general manager of the mine, jointly operated by South Africa's AngloGold and Randgold.

"Thirty years in the industry and I've never seen anything like it and I think I'll never see it again."

But the success of the mine has fuelled resentment and anger among Malian mine workers, and the impoverished people in the area.

'Not benefiting'

Djeniko Diabate, who sells peppers and onions in the village market of Sanso, 12 km from the mine, said that since it opened prices have soared, water is scarce, and her husband still has no employment.

Of all the 702 mayors in Mali, I am the one with the most problems because of that mine
Mayor Sologo Togola
Malian mine workers, who staged a two-day strike late last year over allegations of racist behaviour among some South African expatriates, also have a long list of grievances.

"We are not benefiting from our gold," says one mine operator and union member.

"AngloGold is paying for Aids medicines for its workers in South Africa and here they won't cover even our basic health costs.

"There is HIV here too.

"Only 80 of 440 technical workers have lodging, and the rest of us live in mud huts we rent in Sanso."

Damage fears

Sogolo Togola, mayor of the municipality where the mine is located, says: "Of all the 702 mayors in Mali, I am the one with the most problems because of that mine," he said.

"We have so much prostitution now, girls from Nigeria and Ghana, and even our own girls are leaving their husbands.

Sanso residents
Residents often hold meetings to air their grievances
"Our people asked for 250,000 CFA (about $400) for each hectare of their farmland that the mine took but they got only 50,000 ($80 and they have not benefited at all from the mine.

"Everything is just upside down."

Mr Togola added that he worried about long-term environmental damage, deforestation and cyanide contamination resulting from the mine.

But John Haraway, director of environmental projects for AngloGold North America, said the Morila mine meets all the environmental guidelines laid out by the World Bank.

He added that groundwater is constantly monitored to ensure that contamination by cyanide, acids, arsenic and other minerals does not exceed levels set by the World Health Organization for safe drinking water.

Little trust

Two years ago there were near riots in the capital, Bamako, when hundreds of Malians tried to prevent a coffin bearing the body of a South African mine worker leaving the country, alleging it did not contain a body but gold.

Children in Sanso
There are fears of the health effects the mine might have on locals
Mali's new Minister of Mines, Energy and Water, Ahmed Semega, said that though such allegations are unfounded, they are evidence of just how little Malians trust the South African companies.

He blamed this on the "opacity" of their operations.

"When you're not around to see, things are often done against you," he said.

"I can see that all in Morila is not golden."

A full version of this article appears in the new edition of the Focus on Africa magazine.




SEE ALSO:
Mali's golden hope
26 Apr 02  |  Business


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