It’s always been illegal, let alone essential; yet life goes on for Zama Zama’s during the lockdown. The illegal miners say they’re aware of the dangers of COVID-19, but they have no choice if they want to survive.
Lockdown or not, this is where the money is for illegal miners. There’s just no time off deep in the dark and dangerous belly of the earth.
Illegal miners say they are searching for gold. 32-year old Makhosi Mpanza is among them.
“We follow our instincts to trace it, but if the sand is not what we’re looking for, we leave it.”
Undeterred, digging is either in a sitting position or lying down. There may be a rockfall or a shaft could collapse.
It’s a risky venture and scores have lost their lives due to illegal mining. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing is stopping them.
26-year old Nkosinathi Zulu has been mining for five years. He says they are also scared of COVID-19.
“Everyone is scared of coronavirus, it’s deadly and it has claimed many lives, but hunger forces us to do this.”
Zulu and his colleagues work in close proximity and no precautionary measures are taken. He says he is aware of the risk.
“If there was anyone with the virus, we would have long contracted it because we use the same bags.”
According to Thabiso Mokoka, illegal mining is their livelihood.
“I think that by staying at home, we can avoid infections, the government is trying to save us. But we do not have food at home. That’s why we are here.”
This is a sentiment shared by his colleague Thabang Setlhako.
“I believe that when I fight hunger, the virus won’t kill me fast. But to stay at home with both the virus and the hunger, I may not even manage to call an ambulance.”
It’s also a life fraught with danger; from mines collapsing on them to turf wars and now the addition of COVID-19; all in a day’s work.
In the video below, life goes on for Zama Zamas.