Home » General » Where Survival of the Fittest Is the Game

A head “pops” out of a disused mine shaft, quickly scans the surroundings then disappears. Five minutes later another head emerges briefly to also check the surroundings. Satisfied that there are no suspicious faces or policemen watching, the two makorokoza (artisanal miners) aged 20 and 25 finally emerge from the shaft with small muddy bags on their backs. Their clothes are soaked in sweat.

They hide behind a nearby rock again to further check the surroundings.

Finally they run and only stop after a fellow miner, Alaska Ziyambi, assures them there is no reason to worry.

He tells him we are just journalists trying to understand their trade.

“This is our only means of survival. Dalny Mine was the source of livelihood in the area and its closure left us with no jobs but this suffering. We play cat and mouse with the police daily because artisanal mining remains illegal in the country.

“Because of the tough working environment, many of our friends have died in these disused mineshafts.

“We are actually planning a rescue operation for one artisanal miner who died in the shaft yesterday. When such a tragedy befalls us no one helps. We rely on donations from fellow miners to retrieve and bury victims,” Ziyambi said.

Ziyambi is one of the many young people who eke out a living searching for gold in the disused gold mines of Chakari.

Artisanal mining has become the mainstay of Chakari Constituency, one of the youngest constituencies in Mashonaland West Province.

Chakari was cut off Old Kadoma West Constituency and comprises Chakari, Pat Cowden Valley, Perseverance and Chigaro.

It is made up of wards 1-5 and 7 and derives its names from the mining town of Chakari located 33 kilometres west of Chegutu and north of Kadoma.

Like most rural areas in Zimbabwe, Chakari has been severely hit by the economic challenges.

Company closures and climate change have ganged up to make life difficult for the people of Chakari Constituency.

Dalny Mine, owned by Falcon Gold, closed shop in 2013.

The mine’s closure has not only slowed life in the mining town of Chakari, but also pushed many young people into artisanal mining.

About 900 workers were left jobless, their families in poverty.

Poor rains coupled with low producer prices also made farming in Chakari Constituency an unattractive enterprise.

Ward 3 Councillor Gladys Malimbila said it was unfortunate that Government has not yet legalised artisanal mining, a source of income for many young Zimbabweans.

“It’s a bit difficult to represent people without a recognised source of livelihood. I know these young people want jobs but there is nothing in my area. The closure of Dalny Mine literally brought the small gold town to halt.

“As such these disused mine shafts are sustaining many families in the ward.

“Every time there are reports of death in the shafts as the miners fight for operating positions or after some hit a jackpot. The fights are between rival gangs,” she said.

An artisanal miner popularly known as Shumba said it was survival of the fittest.

“It is survival of the fittest down there Mdara. Only those who are g can venture to the unknown out there. Kumaziva ndadzoka. The weak won’t last the distance.

“We have been forced to try our luck here. We can’t find work. There is a lie that there is plenty of money in artisanal mining but the truth is you work for your supper. We work in teams of between two and five members,” he said.

Only a few have made it big, the rest are surviving from hand to month.

To get the precious mineral, they are usually down in the belly of the earth for two or three days.

“On any expedition, you take with you two loaves of bread, two litres of juice, sweets and biscuits. That is your food for the period. You have to be very economical with the food otherwise it won’t last.

“We plan for days because artisanal mining requires a lot of care.

“You have sampling, burrowing, and blasting all by yourself. You will actually be looking for samples of gold that’s why you take that long,” he said.

Shumba said the shaft located a few metres from their homes was very popular.

Their journey to work starts with a three kilometres walk.

They are always on the lookout. Some fear being attacked by “bandits” who prey on them and steal gold.

“This means you remain silent when you hit a jackpot. You also have to be very careful that you monitor the activities of your group otherwise one can easily stuff stones in their pockets without your knowledge.

“You trust no one. In any case we work in teams of four,” he said.

Gangs who attack the makorokoza come from as far afield as Kadoma, Kwekwe and Sanyati to try their luck in mines of Chakari. This has, however, seen increasing clashes, injuries and deaths in the shafts as rival gangs fight over control of shafts.

According to police, the disused mines have claimed over 30 people this year alone and more than 100 over the past three years.

These casualty figures have not scared them away but ironically worked as pull factor for more to join in the treasure hunt as this is the only avenue to survival.

Joseph Mudekani said: “We encourage each other to take safety precautions but sometimes that falls on deaf ears. Some sections of the shaft may collapse resulting in deaths.

“When one hits a rich gold belt there is usually disregard for safety. We usually warn our miners against disregard for safety.”

Their prayer is that the shafts are not closed.

That will indeed spell doom for the many teams of makorokoza and their families.

“Sometimes we buy food for the expedition using borrowed monies. We are forced to do this to feed the family,” he said.

The makorokoza sell their gold to dealers at between $20 and $25 a gramme compared to $48 offered by Fidelity Printers.

The dealers come mostly in the dead of night to transact in the precious mineral.

On a good outing, one can mine as much as 15 grammes of gold ore or more translating to $600.

Most of the money is spent on beer and luxuries.

“We have to eat and drink after a hard day’s work. It is time to enjoy the fruit of our labour. It has to be like this because life is short.

“Artisanal mining is like playing with fire, you kiss death every day hence the need to enjoy whenever there is an opportunity.

“Some of us with wives back home are not big spenders. We also have to take care of our friends. Mind you one does not strike gold every day. We help each other a lot,” Everisto Makarichi.

There is hope that Government will quickly introduce mobile gold buying units so that the miners realise good prices from their gold.

Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa recently announced that Government would start offering gold buying and milling services to small-scale miners so that they can sell and process their gold close to them.

Source : The Herald