- Published on Saturday, 31 December 2011 21:10
- Written by BILHAM KIMATI
- Hits: 20256
CAREFUL re-sorting of tanzanite bearing waste has made millionaires in Mererani and elsewhere. The waste, which is usually packed in bags, produces more minerals after meticulous re-sorting.
It is the proceeds from these bagfuls of waste that support community initiatives at Mererani. This being the case, the 'discarded' material on the premises of Tanzanite One Company, has become a source of scramble.
Some people, who want to be given the 'waste' try to solicit support from high ranking government officials. The company's Communications Officer, Dotto Medard, says he has received dozens of compelling phone messages, in addition to hundreds of application letters from different sources across the nation.
"It becomes extremely difficult for us (management) to decide who should get a waste bag first and who should come next. Hundreds of letters from different places like villages, NGOs, income generating groups and others have been received," Dotto says. Giving details on the actual content of the bags, the officer explained that underground blasting usually produces tanzanite-laden debris which passes through a crushing plant.
A standard plant can identify pieces of tanzanite of a particular size and weight. The debris is taken through conveyor belts to a camera-monitored sorting room where meticulous hand-sorting is carried out. Sorting at Tanzanite One room was previously carried out by women but after one of them was found with gems in a cavity on her body.
Security guards conducted a general search of the room and discovered at least seven kilos of rough gemstone already hidden by women that particular day alone. As a result the job was taken over by men. The sorting room has about 50 men in gloves with hands caged in glassy boxes, each selecting the most preferred gems using forceps. At least a 50-kilogram find is estimated to be a day's job.However, the bits and pieces not reaching the cataloging room are emptied out of the plant for the local community -- the Maasai women who forage for whatever the machine misses. Quick counting one particular day showed that there were 17 bags on site.
Priority is given to proven income generating groups and neighbouring villages, said Dotto, adding that pressure from various sources has been immense and the matter was complicated further by those presenting written recommendations allegedly from ministers, permanent secretaries, regional commissioners and others.
Clarifying on the reason for the keen watch of the bags, the Managing Director of Tanzanite One, Wessel Marais, said the final product coming from the sorting house was understandably still mixed with pieces of high value tanzanite. "It is not proper to throw away the stuff especially after learning from various recipients that after sifting they earned 'good money,' Marais explained.
He said that the extraction process begins with enormous force but ends with the utmost care to avoid damaging the gems. Unlike the other blocks, mining conditions at Block C under Tanzanite One are excellent and the company has a fine safety record.
Other sources revealed that lucky ones generated up to 30m/- from a 'waste bag' and the trend had been enduring such that beneficiaries gained substantial amounts for every bag collected. While Tanzania's tanzanite mines were discovered by a native Tanzanian, the potential wealth quickly attracted outsiders. These included a variety of characters, both Tanzanian and foreign, who pushed the original discoverer out.
Soon the Merelani hills were awash with thousands of fortune seekers and chaos ensued. In 1971, the tanzanite mines were nationalized, but production over the next 20 years was erratic, due to haphazard mining and theft. By 1989, an estimated 30,000 artisanal miners were working in the area. Tanzanite mines in Mererani lie within a slender strip of ground, just two kilometres deep by eight kilometres wide. This is Tanzania's most important gem mining area, with as many as 70,000 people supported by those mining, cutting and trading tanzanite at Merelani, Arusha and beyond.