In South Africa’s goldfields, especially in Johannesburg where there are approximately two hundred disused mines, informal miners are associated with violent crime and are feared by the local communities. Quite often the police are called after bodies are discovered following gun battles between gangs related to informal gold mines. Informal gold miners are known as “Zama Zamas,” which means “the ones who keep trying”.
In stark contrast, the informal diamond miners in Kimberley are largely a peaceful community. In fact, there is nothing intimidating about the community of informal diamond miners in Samaria Road, Kimberley in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province.
Very little, if any, acts of criminality are reported. Before more than eight hundred of the informal miners in Samaria Road were issued with permits to sieve diamond-rich soil, possess, and sell diamonds, the only criminal offence on their part was the possession of the ever-elusive diamond that nature endowed upon the city of Kimberley and its surroundings.
“We’re bothering no one. The soil we’re sieving through has been discarded. It’s rubbish. In actual sense, we’re deriving our livelihood from rubbish.”
This time I met with Pitso Molahlehi, the 53-year-old Lesotho-born informal miner we meet in the last instalment in this series, in his place of work. The “place of work” in this case, can be wherever hope resides. That is the hope to find a diamond, the shining stone that can fish out a man and his family from a life of want and lack overnight.
Pitso, a Sesotho name, means “a calling” and in the context of a life in a village where there is traditional leadership, it means “a gathering where the village chief calls all adults, in most cases men, to come and discuss pertinent matters of the village.”
Perhaps that is why Pitso is never short of friends. In Southern African cultures, we believe that one becomes what your name suggests. Despite him being a magnet of sorts, Pitso keeps his circle small. “Trust is very important in this trade,” he says. You have to surround yourself and work with those you trust.
Back to Pitso’s new place of work: in search of diamonds, Pitso and a few of his comrades have moved to the roadside, quite close to the relatively new middle class residential area. He said they won’t move too close to people’s houses, though. He added, however, that diamonds were all over the city of Kimberley. As he sieved, separating valuable stones from the not-so-valuable ones, he took out a stone called Kimberlite and said in his native Sesotho, “Ena re e bitsa kobo ya taemane,” which translates “This we call a blanket of a diamond.”