File picture: Carl De Souza

INTERNATIONAL – Acacia Mining has until March 30 to stop waste-water pollution at its North Mara gold mine in Tanzania or the facility will be shut down, the country’s mining minister said on Friday.

Doto Biteko, appointed minister in January with orders to be “strict” on managing Tanzania’s mineral wealth, said Acacia must stop contaminated water seeping from a waste storage dam at the mine to nearby communities in the country’s north.

“We have given them until March 30 to fix this problem or face closure without notice. The life of even one Tanzanian is worth more than their gold mining activities,” Biteko told Reuters.

Acacia Mining Tanzania said it had no immediate comment.

North Mara is Acacia’s largest mine, producing 336,055 ounces of gold last year, comprising 65 percent of the company’s output, Acacia said in its annual report.

Biteko said after inspecting the mine that toxic water from waste rock at North Mara’s tailings storage facility was being discharged into the environment.

The mine has faced long-standing accusations of pollution, which Acacia Mining has previously denied.

“It’s good for them that they have already started to take measures to address this issue. But we will visit the mine again on March 30 to make sure that all the environment concerns have been fully resolved, otherwise we will take stern measures against them,” Biteko said.

Acacia’s troubles in Tanzania began after President John Magufuli, nicknamed “The Bulldozer”, swept to power in late 2015 pledging to secure a bigger share of the country’s natural resource wealth and fight corruption.

Production at the London-listed miner’s other two gold-producing mines in Tanzania - Bulyanhulu and Buzwagi - has been hampered by a ban on exports of gold and copper concentrates.

In September, Magufuli instructed the country’s environment watchdog to conduct a new probe into historical allegations of pollution at North Mara. He described a previous report that found no evidence of wrongdoing as being compromised.

Canadian miner Barrick Gold, Acacia Mining’s majority shareholder, outlined last month details of a deal it reached with the government of Tanzania to settle its disputes with Acacia, which has been excluded from the talks.

Barrick’s announcement confirms a 2017 deal that called for the creation of a Tanzanian firm to manage Acacia’s assets, a 50-50 split of economic benefits and a $300 million payment to resolve all outstanding tax claims in the East African country.

In 2017 Acacia was handed a $190 billion tax bill - about four times the country’s gross domestic product - for underreporting output, an allegation it denies.

Reuters