Tanzanian miner earns billions after second exceptional find

A Tanzanian small-scale miner, who became an overnight billionaire in June for selling two rough Tanzanite stones valued Tsh7.7bn, has sold another gem for Tsh4.6bn.

The third discovery by Saniniu Laizer weighed 6.3kg (14lb). Tanzanite is only found in northern Tanzania and is used to make ornaments.

It is one of the rarest gemstones on Earth, and one local geologist estimates its supply may be entirely depleted within the next 20 years.

The precious stone’s appeal lies in its variety of hues, including green, red, purple and blue. Its value is determined by rarity – the finer the colour or clarity, the higher the price.

Laizer urged his fellow small-scale miners to work with the government, saying that his experience was a good example.

“Selling to the government means there are no shortcuts… they are transparent,” he said in the northern Mererani mine.

Artisanal miners often complain about late payments of their royalties by mine owners.

After his June sale of two rocks weighing 9.2kg and 5.8kg, Laizer – a father of more than 30 children, told Business Times that he would hold a party, which he did.

But last Monday he said the money will be used to build a school and a health facility in his community in Simanjiro district in northern Manyara region.

He said two months ago that the windfall would not change his lifestyle, and that he planned to continue looking after his 2,000 cows, adding that he did not need to take any extra precautions despite his new-found riches.

Some small-scale miners like Laizer acquire government licences to prospect for Tanzanite, but illegal mining is prevalent especially near mines owned by big companies.

In 2017, President John Magufuli ordered the military to build a 24km (14-mile) perimeter wall around the Mererani mining site in Manyara, believed to be the world’s only source of Tanzanite.

A year later, the government reported an increase in revenue in the mining sector and attributed the rise to the construction of the wall.