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Miner strikes rich with huge tanzanite gemstones

June 26, 2020

The government of Tanzania paid Saniniu Laizer nearly 2.9 million euros for the precious tanzanite gemstones, which will be kept in the country’s national museum.

In this image made from video taken Wednesday, June 24, 2020, one of two of the biggest rough tanzanite gemstones ever found
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

A small-scale miner in Tanzania unearthed two of the biggest tanzanite stones ever found and sold them to the government, making him a multi-millionaire almost overnight.

Saniniu Kuryan Laizer, 52, found two of the largest precious stones, weighing 9.27 and 5.1 kilograms (20.4 and 11.2 pounds) each, in the northern Mirerani hills. He sold the tanzanite to the government for 7.7 billion Tanzanian shillings (approximately 2.9 million euros or $ 3.3 million).

"Laizer is our (shilling) billionaire and let us make sure that he is safe," said mining minister Dotto Biteko, at an event celebrating the find. "We are now moving from a situation where the small miners were smuggling tanzanite, and now they are following the procedures and paying government taxes and royalties. "

"The money that I have received today, I will allocate it to more development activities," Lazier said. "I plan to build a mall in Arusha and a school near my home."

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"I thank God for this achievement because it's the first time to get this size," he said. "When I found these, I notified government officials who valuated the stones and today they called me for payment. "

The precious gemstones, known for their stunning violet-blue sparkle, are only found in the northern Tanzanian region of Manyara. President John Magufuli took the decision to fence off the mineral-rich area to prevent smuggling.

When the wall was built in 2018, Magufuli said that close to 40% of all tanzanite found at the site was being lost to smugglers.

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Last year, Tanzania set up trading centers that allow artisanal miners to sell their finds to the government. These miners are not employed by any company and usually work by hand.

While the retail value of the gemstones is much higher than what Laizer received, the tanzanite will not be sold. Instead, it will be placed in Tanzania's national museum.

see/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)