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Surviving for Gold

Kofi Adu Domfeh/Luv 99.5Fm Ghana/Twenty Ten

Associated feature: City of Gold (Photo feature)

Location: Welkom, South Africa

AUDIO: The lengths locals go to for gold.

The World Cup is made of gold. That’s probably one of the reasons every nation wants to be part of the tournament. Teams play, some loose and one winner takes the Cup home for the next four years.

The gold of the World Cup may have come from the best mining companies in the world, among which are many prosperous South African companies. But the precious natural resource is fuelling a conflict in places like Welkom, where illegal mining is taking place on a large scale. For some people in parts of Africa, illegal gold prospecting is their only means of survival and they will go to extreme lengths to get access to the mineral.

Cue: Clip of an illegal miner. “We’re here because we are looking for the gold…”

Link 1: They are free to live in the Free State, but not free to access the gold dust here. Welcome to Welkom, the city of gold in South Africa’s Free State Province.

Sfx: Song about gold by local artist (play and fade out)

Link 2: Her song Impilo is about gold and for Yondo, who has lived here all her life, there cannot be Welkom without gold.

Cue: “We’re proud of our gold… play and fade out with music.

Link 3: Welkom is the centre of South Africa’s mining industry. Whilst some mining firms have been shut, others, like the Bambanani, Masinong and Harmony Gold Mining Companies have plants currently in operation.

But amidst the wealth of these mine fields, live impoverished communities downtown the city. They live under shirk, where everyday life is survival. And to survive, they engage in all forms of illegal mining activities, from the underground to backyard gold prospecting and home-touch extraction - here they are known as the zama zama, majority of whom are from Zimbabwe.

Sfx: Local music by Zimbabwean artist (play and fade out under voice)

Most of these gold diggers are housed at the G-Hostel, popular in Free State town as the abode of indigenous technology and skills in gold extraction. But gaining access to this facility does not come easy; a negotiator is required. Lucky is the person we need. He has been friends with the zama zama for long years and he knows exactly what goes into their operation. The first person we contacted has his own plans.

Cue: “I’m one of those people who live in G-Hostel…

Link 4: Too bad, it is impossible to afford his services. Other means would have to be sought.

Sfx: Water splash at illegal gold prospecting site…

Link 5: Early morning, this chap has come out with his friends to this dumping site close to the G-Hostel. His mission here is to prospect gold from sand believed to have been waned from the concessions of mine companies. A gram of gold could earn them R250 or US$30.

Cue: “The final point is to do money…

Fortunately, Lucky is familiar with abandoned mining plants where illegal prospecting is prevalent.

Cue: “This place is called Sendilina…”

Link 6: The illegal miners are seen criss-crossing the length and breathe of this site with shovels, sacks and other tools in hand. These chaps at the abandoned plant of the Harmony Mine Company know what they want here.

Cue: “I’m from Zimbabwe. I’m a gold digger…

Whilst in the conversation, he sees a security patrols vehicle from afar and begins to retreat.

Cue: “Look he is coming, the police…

The police stop and Lucky explains the journalist mission at the site. We are cautioned against the danger of being counted among the zama zama and asked leave the site.

Sfx: Car creep and footsteps

Link 7: But we’ll not leave that quick, attempting to live the life of the brave zama zama, who would go underground and stay there for months and sometimes years. One of the chaps later decided to lead us to where the gold dust is waned.

Sfx: Footsteps of a group and process to wane gold dust

Link 8: Well, he didn’t go down under but succeeding in this surface mining is already a great achievement.

Cue: “This black one is brass…

Sfx: Music from night club

Link 9: The brave ones who manage to re-surface from underground come out with a turned-around fortune - change of neighbourhood, posh cars, girls and clubbing.

Cue: “They make a lot of money…

But some are disabled and others die there.

Cue: “Two weeks back 60 people were dead underground…

The danger is real. That’s why the gold diggers would have loved to do something else with their life. But, do they have a choice?

Cue: “The only thing I know, one day…

Sfx: Zimbabwean music (play and fade out under voice)

Link 10: Here in Welkom, the expression of beauty and fashion is in the teeth: the average person, young and old, men and women has at least a gold-plated tooth.

For singer Yondo, the gold would always be important to the community, but for the future to be good, the mining activities of the zama zama should be legalized whilst the young ones in the Free State town get education.

Cue: “To go to school is the only way…

Link11: For now, as most countries and people strive to lift the World Cup made of gold, the zama zama won’t be waiting for the legalization of their activities, neither to lift the World Cup, as they need to continue waning the sand of gold to sustain their livelihood.

Sign out… from the Golden City of Welkom here in Free State, South Africa, Kofi Adu Domfeh reporting for the Twenty Ten project.

Sfx: Music plays and fades out completely.

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