It is work that has no starting or knocking off time. It is controlled by the desire to produce as much mineral as possible to ensure one survives.
It is a game for those with big hearts -the brave, the daring and iron-muscled – those who are prepared to toil even for a whole day without getting a speck of gold but still can work up early the next day to burrow into mother earth in hope of a “score”.
Gold panning – though still illegal under the country’s laws – has raised a number of families and remains a lucrative vocation.
Despite being labour intensive, many people are still attracted to artisanal mining for the joys that it promises.
These “workmen and women’s” day is not defined but depends on the will of the miners.
Wellington Rambawaka of Mashande Village, Makaha, who has been in the business for the past four years, says gold panning in Makaha, Mudzi, is a vocation that requires only the brave.
“I work up everyday around 3am daily, rush to my father’s compound to wake up my two brothers to start work in the ‘mine’.
“We have to be up everyday by this time to ensure that when the temperatures get hotter we would have dug enough ore for the day.
“While we are toiling underground the young boys and women fetch water to wash away the soil from the ore.
“Sometimes we even go as late as 12pm digging for ‘mutaka’ gold ore. That gives us time to haul the ore to the surface in the morning.
“We have to ensure that we have enough water because the work consumes a lot of water. Because water is difficult to get in the area we sometimes have to buy water from those who have donkeys and carts and can fetch the water from a nearby river,” Rambawaka said.
Gold panners work in groups of three or more to ensure that they share manual labour that comes with artisanal gold mining.
The group is composed of friends because the work is very risky.
Gold panners have no prospecting machinery but just dig a pit into the ground to look at the rock structure for traces of the mineral.
Only when they have encountered a gold ore seam can they drill tunnels but with another small hole joining the tunnel with the ground for ventilation.
Using a home-made pulley, the miners haul 20-litre buckets of ore to the surface.
The pulley ropes are also used in descending and ascending up the hole that often runs several metres down.
Rambawaka said one needs to be geared to tame mother earth to survive in the area that has been translated to a small mining compound.
Evidence has shown that the area is rich in gold deposits and villagers mine even at their doorsteps.
“My brother, these are money matters and you need to be vigilant. You need to know all those you are dealing with to ensure that problems do not develop when you get the ore.
“I am sure you have heard of panners who were killed while fighting over gold. Some artisanal miners have been left to die in mines because of misunderstanding over a big find,” he said.
As the conversation continues some of the panners who had fled the scene on our arrival slowly began retracing their steps to workplaces but maintain a reasonable distance from the “pitsi” or hole and our car.
“This is our daily life. They have to be on the lookout for the police. They sometimes swamp the area to push us out though we have learnt to live with these arrests,” Rambawaka added.
Another panner, Taurai Fombe, who has been quiet and listening to the conversation interjects saying the artisanal miners have to keep watch of the police who usually raid the area either to stop illegal mining or in search of criminals that have also flooded the area.
“We are always on the lookout for the security personal.
“Actually you are very lucky because on a normal day all these panners should have fled to the nearby mountains for cover. These police raids have made our work here difficult.
“Most of us have fallen victim to some other people who come and raid us of our gold and money when we are sure that confiscated goods never reach Government coffers. As such, we usually are not this friendly and accommodating to strangers.
“What we are just asking Government is for them to legalise our operation to ensure that we do not get harassed daily,” he said.
Fombe said on a good day they can produce about 30 grammes. A gramme cost for between US$30 and US$35 depending on the buyer and the day.
He added that although the returns were sometimes very low, they have been kept in the business by the need for survival in this harsh economic situation.
“We have been mining here for some time now but our life has not changed much because the little money we get is used to buy basic commodities and pay school fees.
“Sure the discovery of the mineral has brought some relief for the people in the area but the benefits have not translated into meaningful development for the area.
“Few panners have made a killing and went on to construct beautiful houses and bought cars,” he said.
Nyamande adds there are tools of trade that need to be guarded jealously whenever there are police raids and they are difficult to replace.
“You have to be cautious and always be on the lookout for the police. You see that little dish (called zamba) that she is holding is the most important asset of any panner. It is also very expensive to get,” he said.
“The dish is used to sift through the ore in search of the gold. It is better to lose any other tool, shovels, picks or water buckets than lose the dish.
“That is the reason why Tinei took off with it when you stopped the car,” he said.
Only those with registered claims are not on the lookout of the police. Sometimes children are stationed on higher ground to keep watch and warn of police of arrival of any suspicious people who might be security agents.
Until Government has legalised their operations, the cat and mouse game will continue.
Only this year Government mooted a law to promote artisanal mining as recognition of their contribution to the economy.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu said his ministry would ensure that more gold buying centres would be established to ensure that small-scale gold producers are able to sell their minerals on a no question-asked-basis.
This would ensure Government can tap into the sector that is believed to be producing and tonnes of ore countrywide that is not being taxed.
Source Article from http://allafrica.com/stories/201209130492.html
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