Illegal mining a global hazard as Barrick’s blistering attack on RAID demonstrates

MARK Bristow’s account of mine incursions by criminal gangs, some 100-people strong, has its echo in rampant criminal activities in South Africa.

Illegal miners armed with military grade weapons, storm processing plants, convoys of precious metals, or closed and unused mine areas in search of gold and platinum costing the country billions of rands a year.

Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s mines minister, has promised to re-establish a specialised police unit in order to deal with the onslaught. According to ex-police services, the lack of institutional memory or skill marks Mantashe’s efforts as potentially futile.

South African mining firms are yet to face litigation for human rights abuses relating to efforts aimed at repelling illegal mining or mine incursions, but that’s not the case in Tanzania. Barrick Gold is facing litigation in Canada for human rights abuses at its Tanzanian mines. There’s now a new case.

Leigh Day, the UK attorneys with a track-record of successfully pressing multi million pound suits on behalf of abused mining communities, has targeted the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) in claims brought by community members of Barrick’s North Mara mine in Tanzania.

Barrick is not named in this particular litigation, but Bristow launched a blistering attack on the human rights campaigner behind Leigh Day’s action, RAID.

“While the vast majority of local residents are law-abiding, there are rogue bands, armed and well-organised, who from time to time invade North Mara to steal gold-bearing rock, presenting a serious risk to the safety of mine personnel and community members in the process,” Bristow said.

“As recently as last month, North Mara was attacked by an armed force of almost 100 men. Despite the police’s attempts to repel them, 71 managed to scale the site’s 9-metre-high perimeter wall and engaged with the mine’s unarmed security personnel.

“The police eventually removed them but one of the invaders suffered fatal injuries. Two of the policemen were also injured. Barrick made a public announcement about the incident at the time. This was far from being a once-off occurrence. North Mara lives with the constant threat of such invasions,” he said.

Bristow went on to say that RAID had not yet visited the mine and suggested that without a local presence, the organisation was unknown to local community members. The inference is that RAID is not truly representative of on-the-ground events.

Yet the threat of litigation does yield results. In May 2021, UK-listed Petra Diamonds agreed to pay £4.3m in settlement of claims brought against the company’s Williamson mine in Tanzania in respect of human rights abuses perpetrated by a third party security company hired by the miner. Petra argued the incursions were the result of rampant illegal mining.

Claims were also settled in 2015 against Barrick’s listed subsidiary, Acacia Mining, then the direct owner of North Mara regarding events in which fatalities occurred involving community members. Then in 2020, British law firm Hugh James brought another case on alleged human rights abuses in the UK which is yet to be settled.

Barrick responded in November that it couldn’t be held responsible for actions taken by the Tanzanian police services. “Barrick looks forward to defending itself against the meritless allegations that lie at the heart of the claim,” it said.