Illegal gold miningIllegal gold miners in Nigeria

Real life events compiled by ZNCJ.ORG

“I wished for death on that day, than being held captive by the machete gang”

Clifford ( A hardened illegal gold miner who was enslaved)

Makonde – The Makonde gold rush exemplifies the real state of socio-economic affairs in Zimbabwe , the most popular and deadly gold rush Zimbabwe has ever experienced in the decade. Desperate youths of Zimbabwe, male and female as well as monied investors are flocking to hills and valleys of Makonde abandoned mine shafts and the gold rich Angwa Pote basin between Chinhoyi and Karoi.

This story exposes the legacy of disturbed and battered livelihoods of displaced farm workers and mine laborers in Mashonaland West Province in Zimbabwe. The investigation tells the stories of depraved sons and daughters farm and mine laborers who lost employment and stable sources of income since the year 2001.

Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth has always been a bloody affair, the great dyke exposes the savegery of colonists and the price they were willing pay to create a conducive environment to loot Zimbabwean gold. History has it that European explorers have since raided and recklessly excavated ancient graves from Cape to Cairo in search of ancient gold and Zimbabwe is no exception in these greedy escapades.

The Makonde gold rush resembles an amplified version of the banditry and scramble for mineral wealth that erupted in the Chiadzwa diamond rush in the eastern region of Manicaland Zimbabwe.The rumors of Ophir says the valleys of Makonde have birthed self-made millionaires who survived the treacherous journey in the hills. Lawlessness is what rules the jungles of the Makonde gold rush. Hardened gold rushers say “Once you are two meters beneath the earth’s surface, there is no law and order” in the jungles (Musango) is the capital for machete gangs, thievery, prostitution , Sexually Transmitted Diseases, hunger, drunkenness, indulgence, perversion and murder.

An estimated number of 900 people have died in the Makonde gold rush due to mining accidents and violent murders which most of the deaths recorded at Eldorado mine in the outskirts of Chinhoyi since 2019 and the number continues to increase every season.

There is a fortune to be made by anyone willing to do whatever it takes , however the big question is – Are you ready to pay the price to score the golden fortune? The race begins. Where brother turns against brother -friend murders a neighbor.

Needless to say, the Makonde gold rush is not for the faint hearted -it is a risky affair where the shadow of death is always lurking in the valleys of gold. Zimbabweans in the gold rush have decided to take their chance to flip coin on fatal injury or deadly violence in some instances starvation or death by dehydration – just to make that fortune.

This investigation reveals the vice and a thousand ways to die in the Makonde gold rush where only the fittest and luckiest make it to the money. This investigative reporter met up with a Clifford, an ordinary man who became part of a syndicate ( normally a gang of illegal gold miners) in the Makonde gold rush of 2020, during the tough times of the Covid19 pandemic.

Clifford was born in a family eight and his father the family breadwinner lost his job as a tractor driver at a tobacco estate in Mashonaland West, Virginia farm in Selous. Subsequently, Clifford’s father turned to alluvial gold panning in the river basins across Mashonaland West province for survival in the dreadful year of 2002.

This is a story of the worst kind of emotionless banditry in the gold rushes of Zimbabwe, a harrowing tale of death, insatiable appetites for riches and captivity.

So this is how it went down for Clifford, a 33 year old man who only had worked as a waiter in South Africa between 2007 – 2013 after dropping out of school before he completed Ordinary Level. Since his return from south Africa, Clifford never landed a job and the only opportunity that came after months of desperation, he joined the gold rush wagon.

Clifford described a very lazy winter night in 2020 amid Covid19 peak were they were congregating at a shebeen sharing a pint of scud with four other neighborhood friends in Cherima, a high density location in Chinhoyi. This is a time when the world was stunned by the novel corona virus and leading scientists desperate for answers, families starving and languishing in poverty to the effect of domestic violence and dysfunctional relationships. This was a time were every man and woman had to leave their home and fend for their family.

When sunset hit, the shebeen filled to capacity with young men and women thronging in and out of the hut sized room, its not because they are big spenders, but its a social meeting spot where they can all share the beer, cigarettes, marijuanna and even Chrystal meth (Mutoriro).

Seated in the shebeen clueless of his next move to get high on mutoriro, Clifford said a mob of close to 8 guys stormed the shebeen, draped in torn t-shirts smeared in mud. As the mob sat on a steel table, the group leader was ordering beer quarts one after the other. In less than an hour, word in the shebeen was already circulating that there was a gold rush in the valleys of Makonde deep in the bushes where special guides could only navigate to the gold fields.

Clifford described a stampede at the door as every able bodied man in room raced out to gather their supplies and find the quickest transportation in pursuit of the gold.

The journey

The mission was to board transport to the outskirts of Karoi, and the journey on foot begins. Their final destination were the mystic gold valleys of karereshe, where there is no settlement but a forest of wildlife, private game parks with agile rangers protecting the reserve from poachers. It is no secret that game rangers are also trained killers, who will not hesitate to fire a rifle when faced with a threat.

The gold deposits are rumored to be in the private properties, however the risk is worth it. The only way into the valleys is by foot and the distance is estimated to be at least 70 km on foot from drop off point. The journey is characterized by dehydration , swollen limbs, blistering feet, cracked lips and blood shot eyes.There is no navigation or road systems, its a guessing game and in desperate times, ancestral spirits are invoked to safe passage of the treacherous journey.

Clifford’s journey started at midnight, led by a man who had only been there once and relying on other gold hunters for directions. Clifford was told by one of the syndicate members that, carrying water and food supplies weighing more than one kilogram would probably slow them down…it was a tough decision that had to be made. Majority of the gold hustlers choose tools over food and survive on wild berries and roots for rehydration.

Mercury and a panning dish are the priority essentials that must make it to the valley of gold, the final destination. Those are the supplies that a gold digger can never do without.

Unfathomable to Clifford that he had to choose between food and tools, he was stubborn to carry a five liter container of water, two loaves of bread, a box of matches, cigarette and a sachet of marijuana.

The syndicate trekked for 6 hours non stop in the forests going up and down the hills till sunrise. The group started to show signs of exhaustion and poor cognition, Clifford still had his supplies, uncertain of where they would get water…he held on to his water bottle. After 8 hours of walking, the bottle had gone below half and a wave of dehydration swept across the moving mob. Too exhausted to carry the bottle, or continue soldiering on, at some point other syndicate members were convinced that the valley of gold was myth.

For two days, Clifford said they survived on foraging on insects, worms and wild fruit. They knew very well that death was around corner and it was place of no return. The stories were being told as the men were trekking their way to the valley of gold. Other groups along the way would tell stories of people who failed to make it to the valley of gold. Majority fell sick along the way, and sometimes left for dead. That would be another cold case of a missing person with the police.

It is too much of a risk to abort the journey for one man. The journey always continues even if others fail to continue. They live by a code, no one cooperates with the Police no matter what happens. Clifford described the journey as a highway to hell its self. He experience much pain and suffering in travelling.
The syndicate had been told of the fortune for open cast mining where mystic gold would be dug in shallow pits extracting kilos of gold.

The ores are processed on site. There could be no better deal than digging a shallow hole and getting gold worth thousands of dollars.
At street value, a gram of gold is worth between 45 – 47 United States Dollars, technically a 1000 grams is a fortune. After three and half days of walking non stop with their clothes torn in pieces and shoes bust open worsened by the constipation, hunger and dehydration – Clifford’s syndicate finally made it to the valley of gold.

Pain stacking gold digging

The gold rush began and by the crack of dawn, what was a thick bush had turned into a mine field where people were digging and cutting down trees in the area. Here is place where everyone goes without preparing and uncertain of when they will return. At that time, all those gold rushers were in no man’s land and anything could happen happen, it was a volatile situation. In this investigation, Clifford tells a story where he was constantly flirting with death throughout his days in the bush and how his syndicate was held hostage and robbed by a machete wielding gang of bandits.

“The first night we arrived, I remember making a short prayer and untucking a lucky charm that I had been given by spirit medium …I went straight to an open space that was unoccupied and started digging with a small pick” .

Translated from Shona to English

When digging for gold, the mission is to reach the mineral rich belt which consists of rocks laced with gold. Clueless of what they were supposed to do, one of the men in Clifford’s syndicate had basic understanding of gold mining, so they had a captain.

At this point, clifford was not aware of what he was doing but only hopping that he would reach the gold belt in a few meters . With the help of his troops (syndicate), as moles, they dug a shaft through out the night without ceasing. Clifford and his syndicate managed to dig a shaft 4 meters deep reaching the money strip reaching the money strip . With a few guys experienced in artisanal gold mining, the syndicate had to extract the ores as fast as they could and leave the site before law enforcement was deployed.

This week was described of mixed feelings, starvation, dehydration, constipation, anxiety and excitement of making a fortune. There was no food and if there was any, a loaf of bread was selling 8 times the normal price. The men would work for 15 hour shifts on rotation hence they worked like machines.
Clifford spent 3 days without eating, but working on pick and shovel. The forces of determination had gripped him at heart – there was no turning back for him.

With hopes of making a fortune and Clifford sometime described chiseling rocks laced with gold visible to the eye…the man was convinced that he met his fortune and witnessed the resemblance of God.

“As I was carving my way through the belt that could only fit my body, I could see rocks laced with gold and I was overwhelmed with the fortune that awaited”,

Translated from Shona to English

As the tunnel stretched, the risk of collapse was imminent and death was lurking in the shadows. The mine got deeper and the guys divided labour by having 2 guys working on the surface manning the rope lowering underground diggers, sacks of ore and other supplies.It’s a messy affair where a simple mistake on the rope can cost a life. Pain stacking work that has no break because its a ticking time bomb where you never know when police and army will arrive.

On the last day of extracting the ores to the surface , Clifford narrated the worst day of his life. A reign of terror when they got robbed of their ores, held hostage and enslaved.
The guys had made out close to 10 wheel barrows of ore to the surface and they were rounding up operations to pan the ores and extract the gold., little did they know that a gang of bandits had captured and beat up the guys on the surface whilst they were underground.

“We were close to finishing operations maybe the last two sacks of ore. The guys outside had been attacked and orderd to rope us out without causing any accidents.”, said Clifford.

it was the most difficult job for the outside guys since they had successfully rope

o hiut their comrades 15m underground with a machete held against their necks.

“As I was being roped up, I could sense that something was wrong on the surface and I feared for my life if the rope was let loose.”

Translated from Shona to English

Technically if the rope was to be let loose or snap anywhere in the middle, Clifford would make a free fall until the rope finishes and tear him to pieces of flesh on the final drop. A horrifying site to imagine. Clifford made it and was met with a jaw crushing fist.He was stunned and utterly confused.In a gang assault fashion, before falling to the ground a heavy weight man almost 2 meters tall put Clifford on arm lock straight to the neck whilst he received a thunderous beating of fists and chambomko.

Clifford’s crew was subdued by the extreme violence of the machete wielding thugs described as sheer evil. The syndicate suffered extreme disorientation from the beating. In the concrete jungle, the machete gang had won a turf war.

“We were beaten up mercilessly by fist and chamboko, the young guys in our syndicate were begging for their lives thinking they were going to die…at this moment I was still trying to figure out what we had done wrong”.

Translated from Shona to English

The Capture

A time came when Clifford’s syndicate was subdued to the center circled by the blood thirsty gang. In a matter of seconds whilst they were still in pain and some of them regaining consciousness, the gang leader commanded his captives to lay facing the ground. The gang was also tactical because they brutalised the strongest members of the Clifford’s syndicate as a way to asset dominance.

As described by clifford, the thugs had brought food supplies including maize meal, soya chunks, cabbage and a gallon of used cooking oil. A fire was set alit in a rush and the sadza was cooked. The gang commander made it clear that Clifford and his syndicate were captured and they had to work for their freedom.
Clifford’s crew was to remain under siege without the hope of a rescue team. It was a twisted situation where criminal had captured other criminals. It was going to be a jackpot for any law enforcement that was to be deployed.

Without wasting much time, the syndicate were ordered to gather their ores and return underground to extract more ore. After receiving the merciless beating we were ordered to go underground and mine for three more days without stopping. It was a situation of work or die by the machete gang. Clifford said the gang was organised because they brought handy mining equipment and food, they came prepared to run a slave labor camp and ready to kill if necessary .


“Our lives were basically in their hands, they controlled the rope that could get us out of the shaft and the food that we were going to eat or water to drink..those were the worst days of my life, I cried for my mother to come rescue me”, Clifford lamented.

Three days of hell

As the investigation continued, this reporter managed to organise to meet up with three guys from Clifford syndicate. It was an emotional ineraction where memories felt like walking on pieces on sharp glass for the narrators. Day one of going underground to perform slave labour was described as hell it self. Shelton, a 22 year old man who had come from Mhondoro as a cattle herder in search of better opportunities in the Makonde gold rush was part of the captured syndicate.

“It was my first time mining underground and I didn’t know what to expect..I was scared for my life that the walls would collapse and we die instantly”,

Shelton

With the little experience they had, the captain led his slave team to dig the ores relentlessly and even in some instances requesting for timber supports in weak parts of the tunnel. They were mining gold that was not theirs for the taking and they were not sure if their lives were going to be spared after the laborious captivity.

On day two, one member of the gang had an anxiety attack which almost cost his life.

“As, I was being roped out of the shaft, I looked down when I was midway where I could see daylight as a tiny light bulb and the depths of the tunnel as botlemess pit ready to swalow me…I started to scream hysterically and caused a panic among the gang”,said Shelton.

When Shelton made it out of the shaft he received a beating of his life with the captors screaming at him that he was a liability costing them of more profits. The three days of mining, Clifford’s syndicate was better off alive than dead. Shelton had no choice but return back with the supplies and overcome his fear for heights and feed his brothers and survive another day of brutal beatings. On day three the morale of the team was low Clifford described a sorrowful scene in the shafts were grown man were crying.

“On day three, my boys had lost hope for life…I also wished for death on that day than to be held captive by the machete gang…we had worked to our last drops of sweat and blood. I did not care of I survived or not”

Translated from Shona to English

Clifford gave a clear account of all the death encounters he was met in the shafts. At first it was the threat of death shaft collapse, faulty rope, violence and suffocation.
After making it out, the syndicate was drained and some of the unseasoned makarokoza were frail. Immediately using brute force and intimidation, the machete gang ordered the syndicate to load the ores onto the surface.

Just like in ancient times, the syndicate was ordered to hand crush the ores whilst the senior machete gang members processed the ores in panning dishes making sure the slave team does not have access to refined ores. Right there and there, a fortune of gold was made and Clifford’s team had lost out as explained by Shelton.

Before leaving, the gang confiscated all tools that could be used as dangerous weapons from the syndicate. They recieved a final beating as assetion of dominace to spread the word of terror from how they identified themselves “vampire gang”. Parting ways left for dead and without a bond note to their names…Clifford described an awkward moment for the syndicate.

The alpha males were left battered and bruised and their leadership skills paraded to shame and humiliation. This was a time to see the loyalists or those who were willing to stay in the syndicate and strategise, or those who were willing to start a gang of terror after a violent and humiliating experience. The syndicate parted ways.

It was a moment were non of the syndicate members wanted to go home empty handed after such a traumatic experience of dominance and enslavement. Clifford could not let his ego down, he evolved into a hardened korokoza never showed mercy.
Clifford became a one man show, armed with his bare hands and ready to defend his life even by taking another life.

“The experience was the worst, I felt violated by how I got enslaved and did not want to return back home without anything. I had ti restore my pride and I wanted my revenge”, said Clifford.

He stayed in the the bushes for extra 3 months, where he joined another syndicate and was employed as rope operator. He would often get a share of the spoils whilst learning the job with a stronger syndicate. Clifford managed to raise enough money toto return home with battle scars and to rethink another strategy to make it in this life.
This reporter managed to catch with Clifford’s eldest sister who said she was delighted that her brother managed to come back home alive.

Of the 900 plus more unreported deaths in illegal mining activities, Clifford survived death by whisker too many a times. He went through digging loose mine shafts that could swallow him whole, captivity, and survived death by violent machete gangs.


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By Richard Matthew Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.

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