In 1952 on a ship sailing from the UK to Cape Town through a Kenyan port, a passenger asked South African-born Ralph Kruger about Geita, Tanzania. Mr. Kruger was believed to know a great deal about the entire continent of Africa, and he answered the fellow, “Geita is at the end of the earth, the last place God made, and everyone contemplating spending life there, is out of his mind.”
Located 100 kilometers southwest of Mwanza, Geita town is the administrative center of the district that shares its name in the Mwanza Region of Tanzania. Its population is estimated to be over 120,000 people, though you’d never know by looking. The district is home to some 800,000 Tanzanians, and rests just south of Lake Victoria. The town is mostly surrounded by villages of the Sukuma, the largest people group in Tanzania, numbering an estimated 6 million. They are mostly a hospitable and passive people, known for their drumming and dancing. Many of the Sukuma keep cattle, while millet, sorghum, cassava, and maize are their staple crops — though cotton has entered the economy as a (rather unsuccessful) cash crop of late.
Before the Sukuma entered the Geita area in the 1940’s, it was inhabited almost solely by the Zinza and Rongo peoples. The Rongo are responsible for the Geita moniker, though originally the name referred not to a town, but a particular cluster of hills in the area. The Rongo were known as blacksmiths, smithies if you will, skilled in the metallurgical arts — and often travelled into the hills to mine ferrous rock. Because of their poor mining methods, though, many of the craftsmen were buried alive in landslides. The Rongo called the hills that regularly swallowed men Keita-Abhantu, which meant “the killing hills. Later it was shortened to Geita.
Geita first came into prominence in the colonial period as the site of a gold mine. Geita was not established as a town proper for another half-century. In 1955, after the mining industry had already seen a great decline upon the ceding of lands to the British after World War I, a town was born. Geita was not of much importance again until the late 1990’s when the Tanzanian government opened its gold industry to foreign investors. Today Geita is home to the largest gold mine in Tanzania — a joint venture between South African and Ghanaian companies. Already in this century, Geita has been outfitted with electricity and a paved road, as its population has more than doubled.
In addition to an influx of would-be employees, the gold mine has brought economic prosperity to Geita. But with this prosperity has come problems. For the first time, a large number of itinerant workers have disposable income and don’t know what to do with it. Unfortunately in many cases, this leads to the abuse of alcohol and to prostitution. The number of people in Geita with HIV/AIDS is estimated to be as high as 50%, while estimates in some of the district’s smaller mining and fishing camps reach numbers as high as 80%.
Geita is on the main road from Mwanza to Bukoba, which is a main port and entryway into Uganda and Rwanda. The newly paved (and almost complete) road is not only making the drive more pleasant, but is greatly increasing Geita’s importance in Tanzania; it is also serving to sustain the steady stream of people into the town whose infrastructure is already having difficulties supporting its citizens. Geita town proper is a melting pot of Tanzanian ethnicities — many of whom have come in search of wealth, only to find long lines for what few jobs are available, and not enough water to go around.
Christie and I visited Geita in 2005 as we were surveying possible locations for future work in the areas of church planting and sustainable development. After being here only a short time, we were convinced this was the town to which God was calling us. We believe he has placed us here to be a light in a dark place, and to reclaim for him a people that are his. We desperately want the people of Geita and its surrounding areas to know God as we know him. We desire for them to experience life as it was meant to be lived, and to enjoy the God who created them for his own glory. Please pray for Geita, Tanzania.