A Tanzanian subsistence miner hit the jackpot on Wednesday after the government handed him a cheque for 7.74 billion Tanzanian shillings ($3.35 million) for the two largest tanzanite gemstones ever found, which had a combined weight of 15kg (33 lb).
“There will be a big party tomorrow,” Mr. Laizer, a father of more than 30 children, told the BBC.
The two dark violet-blue gemstones, each about the size of a forearm, were discovered by Saniniu Laizer in one of the tanzanite mines in the north of the country which are surrounded by a wall to control cross-border smuggling of the gemstones.
The first gemstone weighed in at 9.27 kg while the second weighed 5.103 kg, a mines ministry spokesperson said. Until now the largest Tanzanite rock to be mined weighed 3.3kg.
Tanzanite is only found in northern Tanzania and is used to make ornaments. Its value is determined by rarity – the finer the color or clarity, the higher the price.
President of Tanzania reacted
Laizer was pictured on Tanzanian television being presented with a large cheque after the Bank of Tanzania bought the gemstones. President John Magufuli phoned to congratulate Laizer live on television.
“This is a confirmation that Tanzania is rich,” Magufuli told minerals minister Doto Biteko.
Mr. Magufuli came to power in 2015 promising to safeguard the nation’s interest in the mining sector and increase the government’s revenue from it.
Tanzania last year set up trading centers around the country to allow artisanal miners to sell their gems and gold to the government. Artisanal miners are not officially employed by any mining companies and usually mine by hand.
What did the new millionaire say?
Mr. Laizer, 52, who has four wives, said he would slaughter one of his cows to celebrate. He also plans to invest in his community in Simanjiro district in Manyara.
“I want to build a shopping mall and a school. I want to build this school near my home. There are many poor people around here who can’t afford to take their children to school.”
“I am not educated but I like things to run in a professional way. So I would like my children to run the business professionally.”
Mr. Laizer also remarked that this would not change his lifestyle and that he planned to continue looking after his 2,000 cows. He said he did not need to take any extra precautions despite his new-found riches.
Some small-scale miners like Mr Laizer acquire government licenses to prospect for Tanzanite, but illegal mining is prevalent especially near mines owned by big companies.
In 2017, President Magufuli ordered the military to build a 24km (14-mile) perimeter wall around the Merelani mining site in Manyara, believed to be the world’s only source of Tanzanite.