Diary of a gold panner

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THE day starts at 6am for Wellington Macheza (not his real name), who religiously goes to his workplace despite the chilly July morning. Day after day, Wellington goes down the shaft armed with the tools of his trade — chisel, hammer, pick, shovel and a torch. Wellington makes sure that he arrives at their ‘hole’ as early as possible to avoid clashes with other syndicates as the law of the jungle — survival of the fittest — applies. Wellington and his syndicate, comprising four middle-aged men, have vast experience in gold panning. They have been in the trade for more than four years operating in Chegutu, Pickstone, Chakari, Gadzema and other surrounding areas. However, gold panners, makorokoza or magweja as they are popularly known, have their connotations. Their spending sprees are legion. As they work at their ‘hole’ at Pool Dam, some 13km from Chegutu, Wellington and his colleagues always plan on how to spend the money. Some hope to buy cars as soon as they make a ‘kill’, which they call kuchigwinha in their lingo. As soon as one gets the money, the spending spree starts. Wellington is one of the hundreds of gold panners in the country who lead a ‘lofty’ lifestyle after striking ‘gold’, but are penniless the next day. Usually they start by buying themselves new clothes before hiring taxis for beer binges with friends and ladies of the night. In night spots, their flamboyance is on display as they buy beer for every patron. Macheza said the practice was not showing off, but a way of thanksgiving. He said the more they appease other people the more they get the yellow mineral. “Ukawomera nemari yegold hauwane imwe (if you are stingy with the money from gold panning you will not get more),” said Macheza. Gold panners have numerous beliefs and values at their workplace where injury or death means good tidings beckon. Panners have their own lingo. Terms like mujerimani (German) means one is an expert in telling where the gold-bearing rock is. Chakaputika means gold is found in abundance those days. Bhandi means a gold belt. ‘Stove’ means goldbearing ore while motoro means soil left after extracting gold at a mill. ‘Reef’ and ‘alluvial’ means gold found underground and gold found in the rivers respectively. However, fights often erupt at the mines when some thugs raid ‘stoves’. The ‘stove’ will be taken to the mills where it will be processed. Fierce battles often erupt at the mining claims where men armed with axes, knobkerries, catapults, machetes and spears, among other traditional weapons, fight. Lives at times are lost while others are injured in such skirmishes and property destroyed. However, the gold panning sites have attracted a number of clients who do business daily with the gold panners. A number of gold buyers, vendors and prostitutes are a common sight at the panning areas. The price of food and other services is generally higher in these areas. Most of the goods and services are pegged at twice the normal retail price. Gold panning has provided a niche for some criminals who are illegally exporting the precious mineral to neighbouring countries. Lack of close monitoring on the milling and mining of the precious mineral has seen an upsurge in gold panning. However, the Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment, Saviour Kasukuwere, recently said his ministry would push to legalise primitive mining, in a bid to bring sanity into the trade.

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