‘There are no rules there’ – The life of a zama zama
Shenaaz Jamal | 2017-03-27 08:05:50.0
The illegal miners pay the Basotho“security” with 5kg of sand dug underground for permission to go into the shaft and protection from intruders. File photo
Image by: Gallo Images/iStock
Illegal miners are at the bottom of the food chain in the illegal mining industry and they follow orders given by kingpins.
Zimbabwean nationals‚ who have been operating in the black market for several years‚ say they merely follow orders.
The turf war between the Basotho and Zulus is where the killings emanate from because each group takes ownership of certain mine shafts.
There is a Basotho clan and a Zulu clan and they guard different shafts and different holes and its a turf.
“These guys (security) are cruel. If they catch us‚ even at night when we are in a big group‚ if you become rude they will test the bullet on you and they don’t think twice about killing you‚” said zama zama Abel Abugalo.
“There are no rules there‚ they are the ones in charge there. If they catch you with a weapon you are dead‚ even a knife. They are like the police underground‚” said Abugalo.
“We are their work horses and we are protected by them. They trust us. They treat us very well.
“So when we hear that there is a belt with gold‚ we go there and negotiate with them‚” said another illegal miner Endurance Kazembe.
The illegal miners pay the Basotho“security” with 5kg of sand dug underground for permission to go into the shaft and protection from intruders.
“With the Basothos‚ we enter their mine shafts for free‚ but with the Zulus you have to pay R50 entrance fee above the 5kg worth of the sand we give them when we come out‚” said illegal miner Brighton Maridzo.
After giving security their cut‚ the zama zamas are allowed to leave and are provided with three armed men to accompany them to the main road where their buyers are waiting for them.
“We come out to the main road in the early hours of the morning ‚where we our buyers are waiting for us. The buyers are plenty and they are Nigerians‚ Indians‚ Mozambicans and even Zimbabwean.
“The gold we sell to the buyers is pure gold that we have refined and processed with mercury. The mercury is a magnet for gold‚” said Kazembe.
“We buy mercury from chemists‚ even though it’s illegal. It’s all about money. If you can pay for it‚ someone will provide the service.”
According to the zama zamas‚ 20 kg of sand produce 200 grams of gold‚ which is sold to their buyers for approximately R450 per gram.
The buyers take it to their small plants‚ where they convert it into slabs and sell it off‚ starting from R700‚000.
“We don’t have the market‚ or else we would sell directly to the buyer and we would cut out the middle man‚” said Kazembe.
“The buyers that we supply are not registered‚ so after getting the gold from us‚ they go to the registered buyers.”