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Miner to millionaire: Man sells largest-ever Tanzanite gems for $3.3M

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A small-scale mining boss in Tanzania just hit the mother lode after his operation found two massive hunks of Tanzanite, an ultra-rare gemstone that earned him a whopping payout of US$3.3 million.

Saniniu Laizer, 52, acquired the two stones last week and sold them to the government at an event in Manyara, northern Tanzania, on Wednesday. His employees found the precious gems and brought them to him.

The two stones weighed 9.27 kg and 5.1 kg, making them the largest ever found in Tanzania, the country’s mining ministry said in a statement. The previous record was a 3.38-kg gemstone.

The Guardian reports that Laizer runs a mining operation of more than 200 people, along with a large cattle farming business, and that he was not present when the gems were found.

“He has logistics experts, engineers, geologists who help him in the planning of the operations. He doesn’t himself go to the pit to dig,” one of Laizer’s managers told the Guardian. “We feel grateful that our boss has finally got these stones.”

Laizer, who has four wives and 30 children, says he has big plans for his newfound wealth — and not just because he has a lot of mouths to feed.

“There will be a big party,” he told BBC News. He added that he doesn’t have much of an education, so he’ll invest in future generations so that his children might one day manage his business.

“I want to build a shopping mall and a school. I want to build this school near my home,” Laizer said. “There are many poor people around here who can’t afford to take their children to school.”

He also plans to distribute 10 per cent of the payout among his workers.

Tanzania President John Magufuli congratulated Laizer in a phone call, the mining ministry said. “I’m so happy,” Magufuli said.

“This is a confirmation that Tanzania is rich,” Magufuli told minerals minister Doto Biteko.

Mining officials celebrated the find as a success story for Tanzania’s fight against illegal prospecting. The country is the only source of Tanzanite in the world, and it’s built a wall around that area to try to control the supply. It also hands out small-scale mining licenses to people like Laizer, although many simply go mining without one of those licenses.

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