By Renson Mnyamwezi

Campbell R Bridges might never have come to Kenya if gemstone exports were possible from Tanzania in the late 1960s.

And when he did, he braved dangers others would not have to make his name and fortune exporting gems.

In 1967, the Scottish geologist was looking for gemstones in the mountains just south of the border with Kenya. Suddenly, he came across strange, potato-like nodules of rock.

"It was like a fairy-tale," an article on the find says. "Inside these objects he found beautiful crystal fragments. What he had discovered was a rare gemstone of the garnet group."

The find made specialists sit up and take notice. But as it was not possible to export the stones from Tanzania, Bridges, and other miners followed the rock belt north. In 1971, he found the rare gem again in the Tsavo. Thus was born tsavolite or tsavorite.

At the time, only specialists knew about the garnet. But that changed in 1974, when Tiffany and Company, a major American distributor, began promoting it and Tanzanite worldwide.

To protect himself from wild animals while mining tsavorite, Bridges began by living in a tree-house.

He also set a python to watch over any gems he found, making use of the fact that his workers were afraid of snakes.

For close to four decades, Bridges pursued his life’s work with considerable success. Then it all ended Tuesday with his brutal killing.

Campbell Bridges, an international gemstone dealer, at his Kambanga mines in Mwachango, Mwatate District. [PHOTO: COURTESY/STANDARD]

Bridges was speared to death as he drove back to the mine from Wundanyi Police Station at around 5pm on Tuesday.

Recorded statement

The deceased, who owns First Green Garnet Mining Company, was killed hours after recording a statement with police on threats to his life.

His son, Bruce and three of his managers had accompanied him to the station.

The managers, who were also attacked by the mob, sustained serious injuries and are recuperating at Moi District Hospital in Voi where they were rushed.

However, his son escaped unscathed.

Police say the 75-year-old gemstone dealer was killed by a "known suspect".

They link the crime to a dispute involving him and people who have been engaging in illegal mining in his Kambanga Mines in Mwachago location, 30kms south of Mwatate town.

They also said the killing could have something to do with a row between the miner and pastoralists who have leased nearby ranches.

Bridges had also held a meeting with Wundanyi DC Njenga Miiri and Chairman of the Taita Taveta County Council Laban Tolle.

Ambushed

Bridges, who settled in Mwatate after discovering tsavorite, was the first chairman of the Chamber of Mines and Geology in Kenya. One of Mr Bridges’ managers, Amos Kiamba, said a group of people ambushed them four kilometres away from the mining camp.

"We found the road barricaded with logs," he told The Standard. "When we alighted to remove them, a group of about 20 people emerged from the bush armed with bows and arrows and spears, attacked us and killed Bridges on the spot.

"Bridges had told the police that some people well known to him wanted to kill him. He asked the police to give him security but he was denied," claimed the manager. I know the people who killed my boss. They have been hunting him down and they have achieved their mission."

Taita Taveta Deputy OCPD John Leshimpiro said Bridges was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

He said investigation into the death have been launched. The body was airlifted to Nairobi.

Mr Leshimpiro said police were investigating claims that the deceased was embroiled in a tussle with some livestock traders, also engaged in mining.

Wrangles

"There has also been hostility between the deceased and some people over the ownership of the mine. We suspect these wrangles could have led to his death," said Leshimpiro.

Other sources said tension flared up in the area over the ownership of the land immediately after the Government released Bridges’ mining lease two months ago.

Mr Miiri, who is also the acting Mwatate DC, confirmed he had a meeting with Bridges but could not divulge information about their discussion.

"I am in a state of shock as I was with the deceased earlier in the day. It is unbelievable and investigation on the killing will start immediately. Those found guilty will face the full force of the law," warned the DC, who is also chairman of the District Security Committee.

Mine invaders

Councillor Tolle said the deceased had complained that illegal miners had invaded his mining field and that his life was in danger.

Frequent invasions and looting of the mines by marauding gangs commonly known as zurura is increasingly causing security concerns among the 70 or so licensed miners.

Former Mwatate MP Major (Rtd) Marsden Madoka urged the Government to beef up security in the mines to stem the wave of crime that has left the miners frightened and living in fear of their lives.

An eight-year-old girl was this year shot dead and her mother seriously injured when gangsters struck a village and made away with gemstones and an unknown amount of money.

Assailants gemstone Campbell R Bridges Tanzania tsavorite tsavolite