Feature Article of Tuesday, 4 September 2012
Columnist: Akapule, Samuel Adadi
School Children in Gbane and Environment Sacrificed in the name of Gold!
By Samuel Adadi Akapule
Sacrificing school children to foreigners in the name of gold; sacrificing the environment to foreigners in name of gold? what an absurdity!
Posterity and nature would not spare political leaders if they do not rise up and stop these negative and bizarre practices.
Presently there are two basic schools at Gbane in the Talensi District of the Upper East Region that are incompletely separated just by a web from the highly industrialised and vast stretch of land where a Chinese mining company with the name Shaanxi Mining Ghana Ltd, has perched with heavy equipment. The Schools are the Bonsa International School which has only a 3-unit mud classroom structure and another open-air classroom for toddlers. The other School is St. Anthony Primary School , a public school with a 3-unit block-structure. The innocent school children numbering over 200 learn and play in the midst of flying rocks blasted by mining explosives at a spitting distance.
As I spoke to the headmasters of both schools metres apart, the fears in their eyes were several times more than what I saw in the eyes of the pupils who seemed to be flirting around with a much familiar danger.
Mr. A.K. Sharpstone, a dreadlocked headmaster of the Bonsa International School, told me mining blasts could suspend lessons, examinations or break time at least three times a day. Everyone runs for cover when the ground shakes and rocks fly apart, reportedly flying in the air like meteors.
Established in 2000, the private school was already situated there before the coming in 2008 of the Chinese who, according to the headmaster, had been hoodwinked and persuaded by the “praise-singing and boot-licking Chinese friends” to dump in the trashcan their initial intention to compensate the proprietor who had bowed to pressure from the “top” to relocate.
Beatrice Zaeri, a 5-year-old pupil of the school, narrowly escaped the clutch of death last year when one of the Chinese vehicles ran over her leg at the school. She groaned in the hospital for weeks before she rejoined the school to recover, trailing her mates in kindergarten one. Up to now, the girl has not been compensated by the Chinese Mining firm.
The widespread worry is worse at the St. Anthony Primary School. Its headmaster, Mr. Francis Naleog, and his teachers are more ached by the mining tremor which evidently has reduced the public school’s classroom block and toilets to deathtraps.
The endless shake has weakened the building, as some cracks can reflect. The concrete floor inside the toilets, as my camera did capture, has been reduced to a mat-weight sheet of almost-bare iron rods with dead cement powder waiting on the surface for a wind to expose the deep, pitch-dark pit beneath. Even if the contractor had done shoddy job exposed by a mere blast, the fact is: the mining blast is too close for comfort and the cracks just might be a window for a glimpse into the intensity of the impact of the Chinese machines on the unprotected precious lives and quality property around.
“The huge release of waste mining chemicals from the Chinese has polluted our water table underground,” also observed Mr. David Kurug, an eloquent, plump small-scale miner who wore a mushroom-shaped moustache and a big, rough-edged globe of white hairs like Albert Einstein, my late idol bleeding to meet before a rare handshake honour with Shakespeare.
Soon, I only knew the half-lettered miner was not the German-born scientist when he bent so low to pick up a box-fresh cigarette stick and I realized that, unlike Einstein who was white-skinned and also would prefer a smoking pipe glued to his mouth, Mr. Kurug was diesel-black with a hairless shinning disc on top of his head like an empty, round lake mobbed for water by a thirsty forest.
“It might not be long before we begin to experience strange diseases in Gbani as a result of drinking water with cyanide, lead and mercury. The more they pollute the little water we have, the more expensive and distant it is to get good drinking water, if not packaged water. But you know the big problem? The kids will drink anything as they play around, I mean anything, especially when the weather is extremely hot and clean water is beyond reach,” lamented the bare-chested miner, wearing only brown shorts.
The community’s only river is on its knees on the blazing altar of pollution, praying for feet to flee the raging mining chemical floods. The trees are constantly looking over their own shoulders, standing in the silent fear that it might be time to be axed down from behind like the rest. Women and youths whose survival hinges on small-scale mining in that ‘promised land’ are explaining how politicians and well-positioned figures “are taking back” the ‘promised land’ reserved for natives and handing it over to aliens “for something” and nobody seems to hear them.
When I toured the land to hear from the bottom-placed, hundreds of them made it clear to me in one voice that they were prepared to defend with their own blood the land that meant home and survival to them, if the law continued, as it had started, to fail to protect them. The mining site is becoming a battlefield. Dark clouds of immortal chaos are hovering over this land. I no longer see a people living together as before. Until the agitations are resolved and the bending environment is back erect on its own feet, it is only one thing I see with sorrow: a tomorrow when a ‘Promised Land’ becomes another ‘Niger Delta’, a once-wealthy community reduced by bonfire and gunfire to a horrifying skeleton tattooed with weapon-torn environment, wails of woes, killings and kidnappings of local and foreign nationals hitting international headlines.
When this writer spoke to a Health Professional at the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital, Mr. Asakeya Alagskomah Noble, he said if the situation is not reversed now, the school children stand the risk of contracting strange diseases as they play around the mining site and said he wondered why the District Assembly and the GES, being the major stakeholders, could allow mining activities to be carried out closer to the two schools.
The Assemblyman for the Community, Mr Bismark Zumah, said several appeals by him to the Assembly have proved futile and wondered what was the relationship that was existing between the political head of the Assembly and the Chinese Mining firm that merited jeopardizing the life of the school children.
What are the major stakeholders like the Ghana Education Service and the Ghana National Commission of Children (GNCC) doing? What about the Human Right fighters? Where are the Civil Society Organizations who are the fifth Estate of the realm? As for our institutions like the Minerals Commission and Talensi District Assembly, they have become toothless bulldogs. It is alleged that the officialdoms of those institutions are bootlickers to the Chinese Mining Company.
In Article 28 section one, sub section 1d of the 1992 constitution stipulates that children and young persons receive special protection against exposure to physical and moral hazards yet these innocent school children whose lives are in danger are not protected which is a complete violation of the constitution of Ghana and something swift need to be done about the situation.
I write this to protect the innocent school children and children in general in the Gbane Community who are unaware of what is going on. I write this to speak for the silent water and so that the barren and the economic trees may fall no more for silver and gold. I write this to remind anyone who is involved even unawares as a professional tool in the ongoing slow but deep devastation process ahead of the approaching hour when Nature shall name a non-negotiable price at its own court. I write this to abort the growing foetus of a hydra-headed monster of what might soon begin as an endless bloody unrest. In the midst of the tempting shortcuts leading to borrowed dreams, we can always remember the needless cost as long as we know there are natural laws and there is always only one door to the truth.
There is the need for the GES, Human Right Institutions, Ghana National Commission of Children (GNCC) and the District Assembly to put pressure on the Chinese Mining Company to relocate the school. Though one appreciates the Social Corporate Responsibilities of the Chinese Company in the area for constructing a bridge and buying a car for the Assembly, that is not enough. The school children who are future leaders and would serve as the human resource capital base of the District, the region and the entire nation are paramount. Let’s us all stop sacrificing our innocent school children and environment to foreigners in the name of gold. Let us bear in mind that God and posterity would judge us if we do not stop this negative canker.