Driven by poverty underground – to be stuck between a rock, and a hard place


By Bongani Sazy Siziba


Fourty-five year old Tapiwa Madenhere is a teacher by profession who hails from Zimbabwe. Now he is a Zama Zama – name given to illegal gold miners in South Africa.

He is a father of three, and says he was pushed underground by economic hardships in Zimbabwe.

Madenhere came to South Africa in 2009 in search of greener pastures, but since then he has not got any decent job that can raise money to feed his family in Zimbabwe.

Thus he had no choice but to risk his life doing the work of Zama Zamas.

“Problems in Zimbabwe forced me to do this, my children need school fees, food and I have medical bills to take care of, so all that forced me to risk my life, sometimes we go for weeks without getting anything, but we stay positive so we can feed our families,” he said.

Madenhere is one of thousands of illegal miners operating at Langlaagte, west of Johannesburg where a group of illegal miners were trapped in 2016, many who were since confirmed to be Zimbabweans.

Socio- economic issues such as unemployment and poverty has pushed hungry people in South Africa into a desperate battle to put food on the table.

Many more have resorted to illegal mining, an activity that has become more concentrated to killing of each other for areas to mine, than survival and sustainance.

Abandoned mine shafts are the easiest access to most illegal mine of which 70 percent are believed to be foreigners in South Africa.

In most cases the illegal miners risk their lives by going more than 5 kilometres  or more underground – stay there for days on end, in the hope of finding the precious stones.

And for many others, all that glitters, is nowhere to be found.

“I am not scared to die,” said Cephas Kunaka from Zimbabwe.

“No man gives up especially when you have a family looking up to you. l would rather die here that let my family die with hunger back home. This is what we have to face here, we have accepted it,” said Kunaka.

As Zimbabwe continues to plunge into its worst economic crisis in decades, skyrocketing inflation, biting forex shorages, and failing institutions among many, its citizens continue to flock to South Africa in search of greener pastures.

Although the illegal miners have to put food on the table, there are also factors that have negative impact on the environment and to the miners themselves such as accidents, deaths, and health problems.

The movement of rocks in the surface mining impacts the land negatively, destroying landscapes.

The question is, is this a story of poverty, unemployment, greed or is it one of being stuck between a rock and a hard place?


Pictures by Bongani Sazy Siziba





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