By Raymond Jaravaza
Twenty-one-year-old Thamsanqa Siziba leads a team of equally young small-scale gold miners for a prayer session with a local clergyman, a session they hope will turn their luck in the search for the precious yellow metal.
Small-scale gold mining is big business in the small town of Esigodini, about 40 kilometres from Bulawayo, and it is very common to meet groups of young men walking about carrying shovels, picks and food rations.
It’s a trade that has attracted the interest of young unemployed men from different parts of the country who now call Esigodini their “new home” and its gold-rich landscape their workplace.
It’s a job that pays handsomely for the lucky ones that manage to strike gold.
Small-scale gold mining can, however, be a frustrating and extremely laborious job for the “unlucky” ones who sometimes toil for days and nights, but come out of the shafts with nothing to show for the backbreaking work.
This is when they seek divine intervention and request church leaders especially members of the apostolic sect to assist with prayers
It’s a Sunday afternoon in Esigodini and an apostolic sect leader is conducting one-on-one sessions with a group of young gold miners, numbering about 30. The group stands out from the all-white dressed congregates of the apostolic sect.
Their assortment of clothing from torn jeans, overalls, trousers, and colourful t-shirts says it all — they are not part of the apostolic sect.
But do these small-scale gold miners really believe in divine intervention for better fortunes in gold mining?
“It’s about faith. If I don’t believe that indeed prayers do work, then I might as well be wasting my time here (at the shrine). Some guys go as far as consulting inyanga (traditional healers) for luck to get the gold, but I prefer coming to the shrine where they will just pray for me and not give me umuthi,” says Vimbi Mnkandla.
For Mnkandla, seeking divine intervention to get better returns in gold mining starts with “ridding himself of bad luck which causes him to search for the gold in the wrong places.”
“You can dig in the same mine with five friends and make enough money to buy a Honda Fit while they come out with nothing. It’s all about luck and I have come here to get prayers so that I dig in the right places,” said Mnkandla.
Esigodini has countless disused mines that were no longer profitable for mining companies but still have gold deposits that small-scale miners such as Mnkandla spend hours on end digging for.
While the mining companies use heavy machinery exploring for the gold, small-scale miners use simple tools like picks and hammers and the occasional explosives that they buy from the black market.
Another miner, Sibusiso Mlilo said he hit a dry patch in the last three months so he decided to seek divine intervention from the apostolic sect leader to turn around his luck.
“I used to get at least 10 grammes of gold after working in the shafts for about a week, which is almost US$500 when I sell to a local buyer, but things have changed since the beginning of the year. I hardly make enough money to buy food and pay my share of rent here in Esigodini and that is why I came to get prayers.
“There is a lot of jealousy in this business and no one is happy when you are making money so they will wish you all sorts of bad things when you make money. I’m confident that after receiving the prayers, things will change,” said Mlilo.
According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s gold buying arm, Fidelity Printers and Refiners, small-scale gold mining contributes about 60 percent of the gold produced in the country annually. The industry is an employer of thousands of young men across the country who flock into gold-rich areas searching for the yellow metal. The Chronicle