Campbell Bridges the British miner who met his death in war over stones. (Photo: Courtesy)
For years, Campbell Bridges fought off death threats over his ranch, from where tsavorite, the gemstones he discovered, lie aplenty
The day was warm and the skies clear. There was no hint of wind in Kibanga Ranch. Those who were there say the specks on the ground sparkled in the boisterous sun and you could hear hyenas talk.
But as evening approached, years of intimidation and politics of ‘us versus them’ finally caught up with then 71-year old Campbell Bridges, owner and operator of Kibanga Ranch, one of the few places in the world in which Tsavorite, a precious stone is mined.
For years, Mr Bridges had survived a war for the control of his mine, living through numerous death threats. But on that 11th day of August, 2009, Campbell, a British miner and geologist, would in a few short minutes lose the final battle.
His waterloo was in Taita Taveta where he had set up shop. Campbell was born in the UK, but had lived in Africa for most of his life. He had mined in the area since 1967, worked for the Central Mining and Investment Corporation and secured credit for discovering tsavorite. He had discovered the brilliant dark green gemstone in the 1960s on the border with Tanzania, reputedly when he landed in a trench after being chased by a buffalo.
That day, a group of about a dozen men attacked him, his son and a few of his workers in a bloody ambush at an illegally erected road block on his property. The effects of that attack were to last a lifetime for some and mark the end of a life for him.
A group of between eight and 10 men, all of whom he knew, came running down a nearby hill towards them. Those who witnessed the attack said the attackers took out whistles and started blowing them before more people, who were also armed with clubs and knives, joined.
The attack did not come as a surprise. For close to a month, events around the tsavorite mine indicated that it was only a matter of when the attack would happen. Not if. Days before his murder, Bridges had accosted trespassers on his mine who, court documents show, ignored his order to vacate and in return threatened to kill him if he did not allow them to continue mining, albeit, illegally.
On August 6, following numerous complaints from the Bridges, the Commissioner of Mining issued an order declaring the Bridges the legally recognised holders of an exclusive prospecting licence on the 1,500 acre ranch. The commissioner also sent an eviction notice to one of the mining companies illegally laying claim to the ranch and gave it a two week ultimatum to vacate.
In fact, a day before his murder, Bridges had recorded a statement at the Wundanyi police station over the trespass, death threats and constant calls from unknown people to his mobile phone. The push and pull over the lucrative mining business had started a year earlier when illegal mines sprung up across the property.
The family’s complaint to law enforcement officers fell on deaf ears. On one occasion, testimonies from court say Bridges was threatened in the full presence of a government officer.
At the time, the lucrative gemstone mining was earning the country billions in foreign exchange. Tsavorite was almost solely mined and distributed by Bridges’ company, which counted American jeweler Tiffany’s among its clients. The family says there was immense pressure from local politicians for them to sell their mining rights to them or abandon it altogether.
All this culminated in that Tuesday afternoon ambush when time, for a moment, stood still as Bridges, his son Bruce and several of their workers stared back on their attackers. Police statements from those at the scene detail how Bridges lost his life.
One of the attackers went at him with a spear, but the 71-year-old pushed it aside with his left hand, opening up that same side to a subsequent attack. As the first attacker tried to steady himself for another go at the miner, a second attacker, feet squarely on the ground, drove a spear into his upper left chest before running off into the Taveta wilderness.
“He collapsed in a sitting position and lay there,” his son Bruce said in court.
In a few short minutes, Bridges was dead. A week later, a man was arrested over the murder following outrage from the mining community and media. Although the arrest was speedy, the murder trial was a long and protracted affair that lasted five years.
In 2014, four individuals convicted of the murder were slapped with a 40-year jail term.
The Bridges, however, say that they believe that there was more than enough evidence to convict an additional three perpetrators originally charged but later acquitted, and that there were two politicians of high position who ought to have been convicted.
“We are thankful for the four convictions and their sentencing. We also wish to reiterate that there were two politicians of high position involved as well as several other known assassins that have yet to be found and brought to book,” the family says.