One man’s struggle for justice in Tanzania and the lengths a multinational company will go to deny it

Zakaria in his home in Mrito, November 2016

In a remote corner of northwest Tanzania, in the early hours of the morning of 9 October 2013, 27-year old Zakaria Nyamakomo Marwa was searching for waste rocks at Acacia Mining’s North Mara Gold Mine (the ‘Mine’). The father of three young children, and responsible for supporting his widowed mother and younger siblings, Zakaria was struggling to make ends meet. His meagre earnings from farming and fishing were not enough to feed his family.

Like some friends and neighbours, he occasionally scaled the walls surrounding the nearby mine after dark to search for waste rock. Doing so was risky: he had heard many had been killed, including his younger brother when walking near to the Mine, and others beaten by police and security officials guarding the Mine. But he was desperate and if he was lucky, it might earn him enough for food on the table and clothes for his children.

That night, Zakaria was not lucky. He waited with others near the Mine till there was no security in sight. When it was safe, they climbed the wall and began their search. But before long, Zakaria and the dozens of other so called “intruders” were spotted by mine security.

Acacia Mining’s subsidiary has an agreement to pay the Tanzanian police to guard the Mine in coordination with the Mine’s own security staff. The security patrol fired teargas and gave chase to the intruders. Zakaria fled, but in the chaos, he fell. By the time he picked himself up, the police were upon him, stamping on him and beating him viciously with batons. The police often assault "intruders", but are not held to account for their actions. As the blows rained down, Zakaria later recalled that it was as if they were “trying to kill a snake”.

Such was the ferocity of the attack, Zakaria was beaten unconscious. He doesn’t know what happened next, only regaining consciousness the next day in a local hospital. Doctors told him two of his vertebrae were shattered and he would never walk again. “I didn’t want to believe it,” Zakaria later said. “I cried with such bitterness.”

Several months later, in May 2014, Zakaria was sent home because he couldn’t afford the hospital bills. Confined to a broken-down wheelchair, he needed help to navigate the rough terrain of his mother’s small plot of land. His wife left him shortly after his return because he could not provide for his family, and, unable to give her proper care, his youngest child Angel, still an infant, died not long after.

    Zakaria outside his home in Mrito, 2016

As the blows rained down, Zakaria later recalled that it was as if they were "trying to kill a snake"

It took until February 2015 for Zakaria to pluck up the courage to journey from his home to the Mine’s grievance office to make a claim. His wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the door so he sat outside as a Mine official wrote out his complaint. Zakaria cannot read or write. Like many*, he was scared of saying it was the police who beat him, fearing reprisals, so he told the official his injuries resulted from a fall at the Mine. He believed this offered the best chance of getting any assistance.

* Tanzanian hospitals require that assault victims submit a form known as Police Form Number 3 (PF3) prior to being treated…The PF3 requirement impedes access to health. For those who have been assaulted by the police themselves—or who are reluctant to go to the police for fear of facing repercussions—treatment is out of reach, either because police outright refuse to provide the form or because victims are afraid to request it.

The company official told Zakaria that he would be contacted within 30 days. As the months went by with no response, he began to lose hope.

Acacia’s Denials

In July 2016, a local village chairman, aware that Zakaria had been injured by police at the Mine, urged RAID to see him. RAID staff were visiting the area as part of ongoing research into the high number of security-related deaths and grievous assaults at the Mine. RAID took down Zakaria’s account and spoke to others about what had occurred. A witness who was in the pit the same night as Zakaria provided a detailed statement confirming Zakaria’s account about the police beating.

RAID contacted Acacia in November 2016 to raise Zakaria’s case with them. Acacia responded that Zakaria had been injured not by police, but in a fall, as cursorily recorded 7 months after the incident in a hospital discharge form taken from Zakaria. In response to a request from the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, which wanted to hear directly from alleged victims of corporate-related abuses, RAID produced a video on his plight.

Zakaria's Story - North Mara Gold Mine, Tanzania

Questionable Evidence

Following publication of the video, Mine officials approached the local Tanzanian police commander, Morris Okinda, about the incident. Okinda had a dubious reputation and been involved in harassing local activists. But Mine officials had found him to be helpful.

The involvement of Okinda in the case set in motion a series of events resulting in elaborate and shifting accounts to discredit Zakaria and absolve the Mine and police of any responsibility for his injuries. Later it said Zakaria had been in a drunken fight at Nyangoto village with a man named Stivine Girimbe and fallen into a local mine pit. This later changed to the fight having taken place at Kegonche with Zakaria falling into a pit latrine. Acacia obtained from Okinda a police report about Zakaria, which it sent to RAID along with other materials including: a police detention register and charge sheet for Girimbe, two photocopied pages of entries in a Police Report Book, and select court-related documents concerning charges against Girimbe. Based on these materials, Acacia accused Zakaria of fabricating his allegations against the police at the Mine.

When RAID inspected the documents it was clear they were full of anomalies. Yet the Mine did not question this flawed evidence and instead chose to rely on it to discredit Zakaria’s account.

(a) The “helpfully” provided police report

The half-page report from police commander Okinda included a cover letter signed by him. It was addressed to the “The Security Manager, Acacia North Mara Gold Mine Ltd” and said “I appreciate for your mutual assistance and hoping this report will be helpfully [sic]”.

The letter was dated October 2017. Oddly, so was the police report, indicating it was created at the same time as the letter, four years after the incident. It stated that Zakaria had “sustained injuries on his head and waist” from falling into “a local mine pit” in Nyangoto village after being struck on the head with a beer bottle by Girimbe (who, RAID learned, has died and so cannot deny the report). It expressly sought to absolve the Mine of any responsibility by stating “the incident didn’t happen within the ACACIA Mining area therefore ACACIA Mining had nothing to answer”.

(b) The dubious police records

The entries in the Police Report Book purported to show that Zakaria had reported being assaulted by Girimbe. Yet Zakaria’s address was incorrect, his name was misspelled, and his date of birth was wrong. Moreover, the entry for Zakaria recorded the time as 13:44 on 9 October 2013. At the time, Zakaria was lying paralysed in a hospital many miles away.

The detention register had its own contradiction: it showed that Girimbe was in police cells before his supposed assault on Zakaria had been reported.

Concerned about the inconsistencies in the police documents, RAID asked a lawyer to visit the police station to examine the original “Police Report Book” to check it against Acacia’s photocopy. Alongside a senior police officer, the lawyer looked carefully through the relevant pages but the entry was nowhere to be found, casting doubt on the authenticity of the photocopy provided to the Mine. The police officer had no explanation for where the entry could have come from if it was not in the original Police Report Book. After making some phone calls, he told the lawyer it was only police commander Okinda who could explain it.

Address: Acacia North Mara Mine

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(c) The contradictory charge sheet and court records

There were also anomalies in the court records. The official court stamp on the charge sheet shows 11 October 2017, the day before police commander Okinda created the Police Report which he sent to Acacia Mining, and four years after Zakaria suffered his injuries. Moreover, while Zakaria was injured on 8-9 October 2013, the date given for the incident on the charge sheet was 8 August 2013, a month before he suffered his injuries. It also referred to the alleged assault as being a “hit…on the thirgh” [sic], which is very different to a spinal injury leading to paralysis. It made no mention of any other injuries.

The records of the court proceedings at Tarime District Court do not name Zakaria as the victim and contain no account of any alleged assault. Rather, they show that a case against Girimbe was postponed, apparently due to lack of a police investigation until finally in December 2013, it was “dismissed… for want of prosecution.” The police had provided no evidence.

When RAID pointed out the obvious problems with the police accounts and documents, Acacia failed to explain the anomalies. The company maintained its position that Zakaria's claims were baseless. But it changed its account again, claiming that Zakaria was injured at another location (this time, a hamlet called Kegonche) after falling into a pit latrine, not a “local mine pit”. Acacia relied for this version on testimony it claimed to have from an unnamed witness, which it did not provide because, Acacia had to admit, this alleged witness refused to sign a statement.