Artisanal gold mining in Zimbabwe is one of the most under reported topics in Zimbabwe. The gold rushes in Zimbabwe have been characterized with extreme violence, disease and death and journalists are afraid to carryout in-depth investigations in such conditions. Citizen journalists are at risk covering hostile environments particularly. illegal mining activities.
Exposing the existing human condition in the gold rush areas has been problematic and this article will share tips and experiences of journalists who have covered hostile environments.
At present, zimbabwe’s informal sector is the backbone of the township economy. Pieces of gold are traded in the high density locations from the Southern to the western provinces of Zimbabwe accounting for more than two thirds of country.
There is shallow media coverage in understanding the daily lives of artisanal gold miners, their families and accounting for the real cost associated with the job. It doesn’t end there, after extracting the gold under perilous conditions, there is the buyer who is also exposed to all sorts of risk. Everyone in the value chain is paranoid because its a network of criminalised activity where each person is out to protect themselves by any means necessary.
For the record, the government of Zimbabwe has authorized Fidelity Printers and Refiners the biggest buyer of gold from small scale miners, which is a chanel that is avoided by most artisanal miners due to their illegal operations.
So the first attempt to get to the depth of the story that you want to cover as a journalist you may want to consider the following journalism safety tips:
Be part of the community
Investigative reporter on artisanal mining in Makonde district, Richard Kawazi says gold miners choose to live in areas where their social habits are welcome and this is usually the high density locations. For instance, Gadzema township of Chinhoyi accommodates majority of gold panners who come for the Makonde gold rush.
Being part of the community is the first start to navigate your way to get a story. One thing to remember is that, artisanal gold miners live in communities , particularly high density locations.
So as a journalist, your next move is to ensure that you infiltrate the community and become part of them. Meet and greet them at the local grocery store and sometimes drink a beer at the same spot they hangout or buy a serving of mahewu whilst they see you.
Honestly, you can not hail from the northern suburbs of Harare on a sunny afternoon and decided to film and interview gold panners who have just trespassed abandoned mine shafts in Makonde. You could lose your equipment or risk being violated even after bribing them with free drinks. Sometimes they are a scathing ruthless bunch of opportunists.
You risk getting quality facts and intriguing stories by failing to be part of their community.
So it is important, to visit and make acquaintances in the areas they live and become a familiar face even without immediately making friends.
If you have been awarded a reporting grant and have a budget, it recommended to rent a room for your period of investigation in the area.
Make friends and show interest in their work
This is a very risky affair for female journalists because it exposes them to predatory dangers. However for men, it is a bit easy to make friends and acquaintances over a football discussion at local bar or over a game of pool.
It is important, to make sure that you genuinely show interest in their work and introduce yourself as a writer and express your intentions without prejudice. This becomes your moment of truth because, its highly likely that they wil bel excited to bring you along on shift. This is your green light however most investigative stories come to a dead lock when the sources fail to let you in their lives.
Go easy on the Camera and intimidating them with fancy equipment
On your first visit to the mine shafts or where ever hey carryout they illegal gold panning activities, its not always necessary to bring your fancy digital cameras, tripods,pens and notebooks.
It is advisable that you blend in during a hangout session whilst you wait to be introduced to the syndicate ( The gang or mining crew). It is usually a meet and greet session where you laugh and share a glass of water with a bunch of sweaty guys smeared in mud.
This your opportunity express your compassion on their human condition.
Do not be scared
This is a very Important part of the mission. It is important to keep composure and show less intimidation. You will be intimidated by a few guys on the ground, but usually they don’t mean harm. Stand your ground without being arrogant and continue to do.what you came for.
Get comfortable and get acquainted with their work.
This is probably the 3rd or forth time you are visiting the site. Be quick to understand their lingo and terminology. For instance, the bucket attached to the rope is called “bhunga”, and dynamites are called ma “horror”. This is their everyday language – and you should also catch on to the lingo.
You’d be surprised that artisanal gold miners have a rich urban dictionary of slang and coded messages they use to communicate amongst themselves. It is important to learn their slang very fast.
Make the most of your time with them.
The bush is where you don’t want to spend on weeks. Make sure you make the most of your time when you are with them. A week should be enough to understand the whole operation and if you’re lucky you may also see them panning the gold, torching it and delivering it to a buyer.
Get to know them personally to expose the true human condition, try to get an invitation to their homes and meet their wives, girlfriends and children.
On Richard’s first investigative report covering artisanal gold miners , it happened by chance that his source was free to introduce him to his family and getting better aqcuitantied with the source’s siblings.
This is where you will get the picture of why they risk their lives and continue doing the work that they do.
The women or men in their lives will give interesting information for your story.
Never betray your sources
Dishonesty must be the last thing on your mind. Never lie to them and stay with your intentions. Dont get tempted to leak information to third parties for personal gain. Your word must be your honor.
By gaining their trust, they become your real priceless sources. Remember why you are there…To get the story and let your journalism do the work without ulterior motives.