Some angry natives of Talensi, a district in the Upper East region, have spoken of an upcoming street demonstration with a tone far more in venom than the pitch with which previous protests in the area were announced in advance.
Several demonstrations have erupted against the Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd, a Chinese firm operating in the district, but the one about to take place, aimed at having the company shut down completely and the Asians driven away from the mineral-rich community, is packaged to rock the Presidency with an unequalled public outcry.
That demonstration was planned to take place on February 11, this year, but an injunction order, which police said they received from a court, stood in its way and left the organisers— the Concerned Citizens of Talenteng— more frustrated.
But with the injunction order said to have elapsed, members of the group, several hundred strong, say they are now set to march unobstructed “for freedom” from “years of slavery” in their homeland. And in what may be by design or by default, the demonstration, as stated by them, will hit the district soon after 6th March— in the week Ghana celebrates her freedom from colonial control.
“The youth of Talenteng will resist any attempt by greedy individuals or group of selfish people who will allow Shaanxi to continue their illegal activities on our land with the last drop of our blood,” they vowed in a statement read by the group’s Vice Chairman, Bismarck Zumah, at a news conference held Thursday in the district.
Minerals Commission Blamed for 61 Deaths
Recurrent deaths of Ghanaian-born miners in the area through “unannounced” blasting of mining explosives by the Chinese company is among a number of reasons the angry natives want the company out of the community.
Some 61 people, according to the group, have died since the Chinese arrived in the district in 2008 at the invitation of a local mining group called Yenyeya to render technical support services to that group and another local mining group, Pubortaaba.
The figure includes the 16 men who died just last month after inhaling a toxic fume from an explosive said to have been blasted by the Chinese company. The lives lost since 2008 would have been saved had the Minerals Commission enforced the recommendations contained in some reports put together after a series of mining disasters struck in the community, the group pointed out.
They cited a report dated 5th October, 2012, in which the Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd, in the aftermath of a misfortune, was asked to desist from operating outside its authorised area. The company was also directed to adequately compensate some landowners who lost their cash and food crops to its mining activities. It was also recommended that the firm renovate a school building damaged through its operations and it was told to submit a weekly report to the Minerals Commission on the recommendations made in the report or lose its operating licence if it defaulted.
“Of all of these recommendations, only the school was relocated,” the group claimed. “Shaanxi has violated all the rest,” they affirmed.
The company, again, reportedly was found blameworthy after a committee was set up on 24th April, 2018, to investigate the death of some 5 workers but was only fined 10,000 US dollars. The committee, to the displeasure of the group, purportedly did not ask the firm to compensate those killed and those injured.
Members of the group say the committee which was constituted to conduct an investigation into the recent deaths consists of the same members who failed to enforce the recommendations made in the wake of the past disasters. Based on this, they concluded the committee could not be trusted to fight for whatever was due the 16 dead miners and, therefore, made a strong demand for their group to be represented on the committee.
“If the committee had enforced the recommendations in 2012, we wouldn’t have had anybody dying in Talenteng. The Minerals Commission is not doing Talensi any good. We are not ready to accept any report from them because we have lost confidence in them. And if they don’t solve this problem before the mines [belonging to Shaanxi] are reopened, we will resist,” declared the Acting Upper East Regional Chairman of the Ghana Small-Scale Miners Association and member of the group, Robert Tampoare, at the conference.
“Greedy” Leaders, “Corrupt” Stakeholders dragged to Talenteng Gods
As the presser progressed deep into a question-and-answer session, already-sparked emotions flared sky-high. Speeches delivered by the group’s leaders were interjected intermittently in the background with shouts of approval and resounding applause from non-executive members who filled the conference hall of the Oasis Guest House beyond capacity.
So great was the measure of the collective grief that the acting leader of the small-scale miners in the region, who wept openly in front of the mortuary at the Upper East Regional Hospital when the bodies of the 16 miners were being withdrawn from the morgue for burial in January, called down “the gods of Talenteng” at the conference upon some “corrupt” leaders and “greedy” stakeholders said to be responsible for the widespread tears in the community through their actions and inactions.
“If anybody in Talenteng thinks that, because of the small money they put in your pocket, he doesn’t care, the Talenteng gods should have you and deal with you! The guilt of taking money from Shaanxi and they are killing their own people in Talenteng will kill them; the gods of Talenteng will not leave them. We cannot die anymore! We will fight until our last blood drops on the ground!” he said repeatedly at the top of his lungs as those inside and outside hall cheered deafeningly.
Whilst the hall resonated with a thunderous ovation, Albert Naa, a member of the group and an IT consultant, added: “We are law-abiding people and we will use the law court to get back onto the streets and demonstrate to register our displeasure of what is happening in Talenteng until redress is found. Some people are greedy. Some people want it all for themselves. They are sleeping on the opium of Chinese money and the earlier they woke up, the better for them!”
Employment or Enslavement?
Recently, a keen observer described the protracted disquiet in the area as another “Niger Delta” in the making and called for a rapid serious action before it grew into a ‘hydra-headed monster’ akin to the “Ogoniland troubles” in Nigeria.
In fact, Bismarck Zumah warned Thursday that Talensi was sitting on “a time bomb”. And another native, speaking from the floor at the news conference, made a similar remark.
“The hearts of the people of Talenteng are bleeding,” said the group’s Secretary, Augustine Mmi-Oni Guure. “Bleeding from day one, since the discovery of gold in Talenteng. Our roads are deplorable. We don’t have hospitals. The roofs of our schools are ripped off. Our pupils are seated on bare floors of schools to learn. Meanwhile, we have gold. What are the corporate social responsibilities that these mining companies that come into our area, especially the likes of Shaanxi, are doing to our people?”
When asked if they were not bothered that some local mineworkers would lose their jobs should the Chinese be pushed away from the community, the group said the natives working with the company could not be described as employed but rather enslaved. According to them, the native workers are “slaves” because they earn only about Gh¢300 (55 US dollars) a month, are not insured, work without personal protective equipment, go underground without risk allowance and foot the hospital bills themselves when injured at work.
“Go and find out from them how much they are paid as underground workers. Check their payslips. I tell you: no jobs will be lost if we drive the Chinese away from the community. Definitely, another company will come and will do things right. The Chinese did not find the gold. We found the gold,” Joseph Azumah Atule, a member of the group, added his voice.