Nation journalists covering Nandi gold mine tragedy threatened by OCPD

Karebe mining

Journalists leave after a security officer ordered them to leave the scene of another tunnel near Karebe Gold Mining Company in Chesame, Tinderet Constituency of Nandi County.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media group

Powerful individuals in government stand accused over the mining tussle in Chemase area, in Tinderet, Nandi County involving Karebe Gold Mining company and illegal small scale miners, which resulted in the death of three employees of the British owned firm on Monday evening.

Three other employees suffered injuries during the incident.

The individuals alleged to be well connected in government are allegedly inciting a section of the locals to cause mayhem with intention to force the foreign owned company to surrender the gold mine.

Three miners- Geofrey Onyango, Julius Kipchumba and Geofrey Rotich- died after a tunnel they were extracting gold in caved in on them in the Monday evening tragedy. The incident happened at the mining complex near Kibigori.

Their employer immediately read foul play, pointing an accusing finger at illegal miners, with whom they have been embroiled in mining disputes in the licensed area.

On Tuesday, journalists following up on the incident encountered hostility after Tinderet OCPD Abdulahi Jireh threatened to beat up the Nation Media Group photo journalist, NTV and Citizen camera men, when they attempted to take pictures of the ill-fated tunnel where the illegal gold miners are said to have detonated explosives killing three miners of Karebe Gold Mining Company.

Jane Sang, mother of Geoffrey Kipchirchir Rotich, one of the three miners who perished inside a tunnel at Karebe Gold Mining Company in Chesame, Tinderet Constituency of Nandi County.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I NAtion Media Group

Locals had accused the security team of being complicit in solving the tussle. Threatening to hit them with stones, the OCPD said he did not care what the media is.

“I was approaching an opening to the tunnel which goes to the gold mine. He warned me against taking photos or else he blasts my head. I tried to explain that I am from the media but he insisted he would blast my head if I took photos. He told us to leave,” our photo journalist narrated the encounter.

Fortunately, he had taken a few shots from a distance.

The management of Karebe Gold mining company had Monday night confirmed the death, and three injuries.

In a statement, the mining company said its staff were killed instantly when a wall built to prevent the mine against flooding and illegal incursion was blasted illegally by illegal miners.

In the Monday evening incident, it is said that the illegal miners had earlier engaged in conflict over the disputed gold-rich land where Karebe Gold Mining company conducts its mining activities.

The unauthorised miners allegedly invaded the established mining area and attacked the Karebe gold mining employees in the tunnels.

Karebe Gold mining company licensed by the government of Kenya is among the largest commercial mines in Kenya. It is managed by a Kenyan of British ancestry.

A view of the entrance to a tunnel at Karebe Gold Mining Company in Chesame, Tinderet Constituency of Nandi County on January 24, 2023, after operations were halted following the death of three miners.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

According to witnesses, the clash occurred around 5 pm when the groups engaged in fights using mining equipment and explosives.

Karebe Company administrative manager Albert Kiplimo said the victims-  who are employees of the company were killed while others sustained injuries.

“Our workers were ambushed and attacked by unknown people who have been illegally extracting the minerals. They used to rock-break explosives which left three dead and their bodies stacked in the mines,” he said.

Over 50 workers were working in the mines when the group suspected to be working for the rival mining company intruded into the tunnels owned by the Karebe gold mining company.

“We reported the matter to the police and they have recovered the bodies. We have never had such incidents in the past though the company properties were burnt down two years ago by a group of youths,” he said.

Nandi County commissioner Herman Shambi said security officials were dispatched to the area to quell tension among the locals shortly after the incident occurred.

“It is a serious issue that has been reoccurring for months. We are looking forward to meeting the community and the gold mining stakeholders to address land conflicts pitting the two companies,” Mr Shambi confirmed.

Nation learnt that earlier Monday, a government official visited Karebe, met with the illegal miners and instructed them to cease action.

“We are struggling to control clashes that have broken out between members of our local community and individuals engaged in illegal mining. We call on the authorities to bring the persons responsible for this brutal crime - including those who have ignored our warnings for so long - to justice. This is the saddest day in our company’s history and we pray to God for strength at this time, especially for the grieving families,” the mining company stated.

Families of the three miners who were killed in the Monday blast are now calling for justice from the government claiming their kin were murdered.

Ms Jane Sang, the mother to Mr Rotich, one of the deceased said he was the family breadwinner and never deserved to die.

"They were killed while eking out a decent living for their young families and also their aging parents. The government should serve us justice," she said.

There are several insecurity cases under investigation by the police where Karebe Gold Mining accuses one of the local rival mining companies of conspiring to paralyze its mining activities.

In 2021, the mining company suffered misfortune after staff houses, vehicles, and machinery were torched by arsonists. The 2021 incident was blamed on rival and illegal miners allegedly hell-bent on hounding out the British firm.

“Since January 2021 we have been urging the Kenyan Government to address the illegal mining incursion on our licence area. Karebe has sent numerous letters to the relevant senior government officials and law enforcement authorities, warning them of the threat to the safety and wellbeing of our staff and company, posed by illegal mining activity,” the company said in its statement on Monday.

It has since emerged that the same fears had been expressed our fears in face-to-face meetings with the County Security Committee on Thursday January 19.

At the meeting, Karebe raised grave concerns about ongoing illegal mining activities, especially the potential dangers caused by illegal blasting.

“Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased, who were hard-working, loyal employees of our company. They will be greatly missed and we pledge our support and deepest sympathies to their families and those they have left behind. The company will stand with our staff during this tragic time. We assure them of our unwavering support,” the company said.

“Our sorrow is compounded by deep frustration that our calls to address the danger posed by illegal miners operating in our license area have not been answered by the relevant authorities, despite Court Orders prohibiting mining activities within the disputed area,” it stated.