Anxiety grips over 800 villagers gold mining activities

Pamela Were and Samuel Mukuna, residents of Esitsimi Munungo village in Mwibona ward in Luanda constituency are opposed to gold mining activities by Shanta Gold Limited, a gold mining company [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

For generations, families had tilled the fertile soil, tended to their livestock, and built a tight-knit society where everyone knew each other's names.

But life in Esitsimi Munungo village in Mwibona, Vihiga, might never be the same. At least 800 people are living with anxiety amid talk that they could be relocated to pave the way for gold mining.

Samuel Mukuna, 38, says last month, they woke up and found strangers in their homesteads who pretended to be government surveyors and upon being questioned, they said they were doing a valuation of locals farms to facilitate compensation.

"I was equally shocked when youths in their early 20s traversed the entire village the following day asking us if we had title deeds to our parcels of land," Mr Mukuna told The Standard, adding, 'they even asked us the value of the cows, trees and crops in our farms' to enable them to prepare a valuation report and take it to Shanta Gold management.

"They can't just take our home away from us," said Mukuna. "This land has been in our family for generations. We won't go down without a fight."

Mukuna said information has remained scanty on exactly why their parcels of land are being surveyed without their consent .

 "We will not sell our ancestral land to strangers and pave the way for them to mint millions of shillings from the gold deposits within. In fact, we shall mobilise the community and stop their machines from working because they are stealing our gold in the name of prospecting."

According to Pamela Were, 46,  Shanta Gold has taken advantage of poor locals who they entice with money in order to buy their silence.

"Whenever they come to your farm, they pay Sh25,000 for every hole they will drill and some extra coins for the crops they will destroy. From their drilling programme, we have established they are mining gold and lying to us they are still at the prospection stage," claimed Ms Were.

Some residents accuse area MCA Mwibona Zakayo Manyasa of working with the company. But the ward rep who has been adversely mentioned in the gold scandal syndicate, says Shanta Gold are legit and engaged in genuine activities in the ward.

“To me, they are genuine people but I have decided not to engage them because the government is with them—the county commissioner, deputy county commissioner, assistant county commissioner and all administrators,” said Manyasa.

However, he acknowledged that it is him who planned public participation meetings for the company when they wanted to start ‘gold prospecting activities’ in the ward.

“I was doing the work of a village elder to call my people for a public baraza so that they (Shanta Gold) can give the information they had to the locals,” said Manyasa, saying they have done a few murrum roads in the area and drilled two boreholes for the community as part of their corporate social responsibility.

According to Luanda MP Dick Maungu, Shanta Gold claims to have a prospecting license which allows them to carry out geological studies on the possibility of tapping huge gold deposits in the area but ‘the firm is mining in the name of prospecting which is illegal and day time robbery.  "This must be stopped with immediate effect."

“Shanta Gold has continued to prepare my people for mass evictions. You cannot move a people from their land through conmanship, deceit and propaganda. Let it be known to all and sundry that my people will not move,” said Maungu.

When contacted, Crispus Sang, a geologist with Shanta Gold, said: "I am not authorised to talk to the media, it is the chief executive officer who lives in the United Kingdom who can speak."

He, however, took journalists around the fields where they are carrying out the drilling but were not allowed past the gate.  The company also prohibited journalists from taking photos' at the site.

Sang said the Ramula-Mwibona area has about 470,000 ounces of gold whose street value is estimated to be  Sh61.81 billion. The disputed area cuts across Luanda and Gem Constituencies in Vihiga County and Siaya counties respectively.

According to the CEO, Eric Zurrin, early-mid-stage targets at Miruka and Anomaly 22 "have demonstrated economic range mineralisation, confirming the continuity of the mineralisation.”

Writing on the company's website, Zurrin noted that mineral resource estimate at the area is 469,800 ounces of gold. "Ramula mineralisation is open for extension to the northwest and southeast and Shanta’s recent drilling to 600 m depth confirms mineralisation is open at depth, hence the potential for underground mineable resources exists".

Mining Principal Secretary Elijah Mwangi while launching artisanal gold mining committees in Kakamega and Vihiga counties this week, called on the locals to be lenient on potential mining investors visiting the region.

Commenting on Shanta's conflict with the public, he said: "Shanta is not mining as many of you are saying. We gave him an exploration licence and when we licence them to mine, we shall let you know."

 “If there will be any relocation, it will be humane and carried under government guidance where we will ensure everybody is compensated at market rates,” said Mwangi

 He added : "Shanta gold should be allowed to continue with exploration exercise without any interference since they are not mining any gold but still at the exploration stage"

 Vihiga CEC for Environment, Water and Natural Resources Meshack Mulongo  said he had written to the company seeking a meeting over the matter. 

“We welcome any potential investor who wants to invest in the county for the betterment of the lives of our people so long as they will follow the laid down government procedures,” said Mulongo

Mulongo said that no one is being relocated as claimed by the locals saying 'the county is not aware of such a thing'