The farming community of Sansu in the Ashanti region of Ghana is located in the heart of the Obuasi mining concession operated by the Anglogold Ashanti (AGA), formerly the Ashanti Goldfields Company (AGC). Sansu has a long history of artisanal mining, which served as an economic activity for youth in the community long before AGC began large-scale, open-pit mining in the area in the early 1980s.
With the development of the open-pit mine, AGC began using large tracts of agricultural lands as dumps for mine waste. During heavy rainfall, sediment from these waste dumps is washed directly into the Saa River which is the main source of drinking water for the community. In response to the water pollution, AGC dug a borehole for the community to access groundwater. But one well is an insufficient alternative: residents of Sansu have to wait for hours to get a turn at the well.
Violence Erupts in Sansu
According to Ghanaian community group WACAM (Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining), conflict between artisanal miners and AGC has also resulted in brutalities against those living in Sansu. WACAM's fact-finding mission reveals evidence of human rights abuses. Between 1994 and 1997, AGC security personnel, acting in conjunction with the police and the military, killed three artisanal miners. In one incident in January 1997, 16 artisanal miners were severely beaten by AGC security personnel. WACAM also collected testimony from six other artisanal miners who say they were beaten and attacked by AGC security's guard dogs.
In 2006, various NGOs also revealed that military brutality has even led to the death of some small-scale miners. AGA formed a formal partnership with the Ghana Armed Forces and the Ghana Police Service in September 2008. This generated great concern for how artisanal miners would be treated.
Farmers and villagers also face harassment by AGA for traveling through areas considered restricted by the mining company. For example, the road used by AGC to haul ore from one of their underground mine shafts lies close to the village and is used by villagers to access their farms and nearby communities. While there are no physical barriers demarcating restricted areas, villagers who use this road could be arrested for “trespassing.”
The Environment Suffers
AGA's mine significantly damages the environment surrounding the Obuasi community. In 2008, members of the Association of Communities Affected by Mining at Adansi and Amansi signed a petition demanding the retraction of the Ghanaian Parliamentary Select Committee on Environment, Science and Technology's statement expressing satisfaction with the environmental conditions at AGA's Obuasi mine. This committee did not meet with community members directly. Petitioners argued that consulted people were not representative, and that the evaluation overlooked environmental problems caused by the mine such as river pollution, degraded forests, and polluted farmlands.
'AGC killed my son who was the breadwinner of the family,' testifies Madam Ama Badu, mother of Justice Oppong, an artisanal miner who was beaten to death.
In 2009, WACAM published a report, Determination of Heavy Metals in Water Bodies in Tarkwa and Obuasi Mining Areas, supported by OXFAM America. The report found that rivers in the Obuasi area were polluted with hazardous chemicals at levels far above World Health Organization (WHO) and Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (GEPA) standards. For example, the Nyam River in Obuasi had concentrations of arsenic at 13.56 milligrams per liter (mg/L), greatly exceeding WHO and GEPA limits.
Third World Network (TWN) and ActionAid also raised concerns about the presence of arsenic, mercury, and zinc in oranges grown near the Obuasi mine. 90% of interviewees also stated gold mining in Obuasi led to a reduction of food production and local food supplies.
AGA operates worldwide in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Namibia, the United States, South Africa, and Tanzania.