Petra Diamonds to pay R85 million after claims of human rights abuses in Tanzania

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Petra Diamonds’ operations in Cullinan.
Petra Diamonds’ operations in Cullinan.
Deon Raath
  • Petra Diamonds has reached an R85 million settlement with a group of claimants who accused it of human rights abuses at its Williamson operation in Tanzania.
  • A report by Rights and Accountability in Development detailed cases of at least seven deaths and 41 assaults by security personnel at the Williamson Mine.
  • The Williamson Mine is jointly owned by Petra and a firm controlled by the government of Tanzania.

Petra Diamonds, the company which operates the Cullinan mine, has reached a £4.3 million (around R85 million) settlement with a group of claimants who accused it of human rights abuses at its Williamson operation in Tanzania.

The company, however, states that it has no liability in the matter - despite the settlement.

Petra was sued by 71 anonymous claimants who held the miner liable for human rights violations at the mine south of Mwanza in the Shinyanga province of Tanzania. They claimed to have been mistreated and suffered injuries at the hands of the mine's security personnel and that there were casualties reported.

The mine is operated jointly by Petra and an entity controlled by the government of Tanzania, with the London Stock Exchange-listed company being the majority owner. 

No evidence of Williamson staff's involvement

The reported cases involved the Williamson mine's third-party security provider, Zenith Security, as well as the Tanzanian police force, the company said in a statement, adding that its investigation showed no evidence that Williamson personnel were directly involved in the alleged abuses.

"The agreement reached with the claimants, combined with the other actions put in place, are aimed at providing redress and preventing the possibility of future incidents," said Peter Hill, the company's non-executive chairperson. 

The company maintained that while it was not directly involved in operations at the mine, and had no direct involvement in the events, it believes that "the agreed settlement balances the interests of its stakeholders with those of the local community" and avoids contesting protracted and expensive litigation.

The cases of right abuses surfaced in September 2020, and Petra had previously disclosed that there had been ongoing illegal artisanal mining taking place at the Williamson mine over a period of time.

It stated that after its investigation, it acknowledged that past incidents had taken place that "regrettably resulted in the loss of life, injury and the mistreatment of illegal diggers" within the Williamson area.

Extent of abuse

However, a report by Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) - an organisation focused on holding businesses to account - detailed cases of at least seven deaths and 41 assaults by security personnel at the Williamson Mine since it was acquired by Petra Diamonds in 2009.

According to the report, people were shot with little or no warning, stabbed, detained, stripped, beaten, incarcerated for days in a filthy and cramped holding cell by the mine’s entrance, deprived of food and medical treatment, and/or handcuffed to hospital beds at the mine's medical facility.

The board said disciplinary processes have been taken against those implicated in the matter and "certain individuals" had left or would be leaving the company based on its probe. Petra operates three underground mines in South Africa: the Finsch, Cullinan and Koffiefontein mines.

The Tanzania claim was brought in London by law firm Leigh Day.

Petra is not the first miner which has found itself facing litigation relating to its operations in Africa. In October 2020, Leigh Day revealed that it had filed a class action lawsuit Anglo American on behalf of more than 100 000 people in Zambia believed to be suffering from lead poisoning. 

The alleged poisoning is linked to operations at the Kabwe zinc and lead mine, which was part of AASA group from 1925 until 1974. Kabwe was once home to Africa's largest lead mine and smelting operation. 

The case will be heard in the Gauteng South High Court in Johannesburg.

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