Tanzania: Humble artisanal mining minted billionaires in 2020



  • Tanzanite miner Saniniu Laizer became a billionaire overnight, after finding two stones of the gemstone worth Sh7.7 billion last June. Another small miner, Gabriel Sendeu Laizer, found five tonnes of rubies worth Sh1.7 billion in November

Dar es Salaam. Small scale miners are renewing their motivation after two of them emerged shilling billionaires in 2020.

Tanzanite miner Saniniu Laizer became a billionaire after finding two stones of the gemstone worth Sh7.7 billion in June.

In August, he found another stone worth Sh4.8 billion – becoming one of the most successful small-scale miners of the year.

Another artisanal miner, Mr Gabriel Sendeu Laizer – no known relation to Saniniu – found a record five-tonne ruby minerals worth Sh1.7 billion in November this year.

Other artisanal miners now say they are inspired by the findings, which motivates them to work harder at it.

Speaking to The Citizen, Mr Sadick Mneney – a small-scale miner at the Merelani tanzanite mines – said his colleague (Saniniu) made him realize that everything is possible and only patience and hard work are needed.

“I have been in mining since 1985… It is really hard work. But our friend’s achievement motivated us. Even deep mining for tanzanite is possible despite being expensive. We need to work hard and be patient,” he stressed.

Manyara Miners Association chairperson Justin Nyari said there has recently been an increase in the number of small scale miners – many of them without enough capital.

“Just like other businesses, people are attracted to them if they are profitable. Mr Laizer attracted many artisanal miners – and they are coming in increasing numbers,” he said.

Another thing that is drawing them to mining is the government’s decision to buy the minerals at a time when the world market is in crisis due to the viral Covid-19 pandemic.

The story of Saniniu Laizer

The year 2020 has left a huge mark on the country’s mining industry – and, specifically, for small-scale miners after the record tanzanite finds by Mr Laizer.

The two gemstones he found weigh 9.27kg and 5.103kg. That was not the end of the story, as Mr Laizer two months later found another 6.3kg tanzanite gemstone worth Sh4.8 billion.

Laizer made history after he became the first man to mine biggest tanzanite gemstones ever. Until June 2020, the world’s largest rough tanzanite find at Merelani was a 3.38kg (16,838 carats) mined in 2005.

Speaking in Manyara Region on June 24 during the handing over ceremony of the payment cheque, the minister for Minerals, Dotto Biteko, advised Mr Laizer to diversify his investments to minimise risk of capital loss.

“A dream of our President of making the mining sector beneficial to Tanzanians is being realized… We commend him for that,” he said, applauding small-scale miners for never giving up despite past disappointments that they could do nothing unless big investors stepped in.

President John Magufuli also commended Mr Laizer and Simanjiro residents for their efforts in taking the mining sector to new levels.

“Laizer’s incident sends a signal that Tanzania is rich,” noted the Head of State through a loudspeaker telephone call that minister Biteko organised.

He congratulated the Finance ministry and the governor of the Bank of Tanzania for their decision – under the coordination of minister Biteko to buy the tanzanite from Mr Laizer.

The gemstone 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 become 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 – and, the finer the colour or clarity, the higher the price.

Small-scale mining challenges in Manyara

Manyara Region is rich in minerals such as tanzanite, tsavorite, toummaline, rhodolite, graphite, grossulanite, lolite, amethyst, rubies, limestone, emeralds, alexandrite, almandite, aventurine and pozzzolana- among many more.

This unfailingly attract small-scale miners in the region.

Mr Mneney – himself a tanzanite miner – said the biggest challenges they face is the high costs of extraction equipment.

“The tools are very expensive, and it is believed that this is due to high taxes,” he said.

For his part, Mr Nyari said there is still the problem of interference by some government officials in some parts of Manyara.

“You may find that a miner who is licensed by the relevant authorities is still blocked from extraction by the ministry of Natural Resources, the ministry of Land…,” he vehemently complained.

They together called upon the government to minimize taxes on extractive industry tools so that they can buy them at cheaper prices.

They also said there should be one-stop centre for all licensing issuers to avoid interference by officials from other related institutions.

Ruby billionaire

For his part, Gabriel Sendeu Laizer is the small-scale miner who found a record five tonnes of rubies in northern Tanzania in November 2020.

His history is that he had been selling veterinary drugs for years, before becoming a minerals broker. Then he became a full-time miner – inspired by seeing scores of miners making fortunes in the gemstones-rich Longido District.

“I went underground myself before we hauled those huge ruby stones out,” the 41-year old local investor told The Citizen in November. The five-tonne stones, mined from his eight-hectare block at Mundarara Village in Longido District, were valued at Sh1.7 billion.

This made Sendeu Laizer another Tanzanian shilling billionaire miner overnight, after Saniniu Laizer.

“I know him (Saniniu Laizer). He is a distant relative,” he claimed – hastily adding that this was his largest haul since he ventured into mining in 2016.

He said he was well connected to the gemstone market, and he expects buyers from within and outside the country to purchase them.

He intends to spend part of his newly-found wealth to construct a veterinary drugs factory in his livestock-rich Longido District. The soft-spoken Laizer joins a ‘club’ of rich gemstone miners largely based in Arusha Region. Cheers!


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