The operation involves digging and sweeping soil in the streets. Fifteen barrels will produce a gram of gold. Picture: Manash Das
The operation involves digging and sweeping soil in the streets. Fifteen barrels will produce a gram of gold. Picture: Manash Das

PICS: Mining gang digs for gold in the streets of Carletonville

Time of article published Nov 17, 2020

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By Alessandro Parodi

The township community of Xawela, in the outskirts of Carletonville, turned into a mining hub when residents discovered a high concentration of gold in the soil of the settlement.

“Back in the days, some smugglers used these grounds to hide their loot from the nearby mines”, said Virgilio (53) who moved to Xawela in his youth and now owns a workshop.

The discovery happened by accident: “We were digging a pit toilet, when we found a buried treasure,” explained community leader John D (42). “Even now, if you were to dig in the right places, you might find more nuggets underground.”

The streets of the township glitter with precious dust. The group of zama zamas (informal miners) developed a complicated system to extract the mineral, turning about 15 barrels of raw soil into a gram of pure gold.

A young resident sets up the sieve to extract the gold. Picture: Manash Das

The misfit community mostly houses Mozambican migrants, some of whom turned down a life of violent crime to become zama zamas.

In the abandoned shafts, the zama zamas can find large quantities of gold, worth several thousands of rand. Picture: Manash Das

“I ended up in jail for house robbery,” admitted Paulo [fantasy name]. “I killed a lot of people, I could have been sentenced for life. I decided to leave everything behind and I started working in the mines.”

An illegal miner holds a tiny gold nugget panned from the streets of Xawela, Carletonville. Picture: Manash Das
Water runs through the sieve for hours, separating the mineral from the soil. Picture: Manash Das

Paulo, and many others, have tattoos which identify them as part of a widespread gang in Carletonville. Their brotherhood manages several illicit activities including the drug racket and articulated mining operations in the abandoned shafts of the region.

The backbreaking job of digging up the gold-rich earth. Picture: Manash Das

“We own a shaft not far from here,” indicated a kingpin of the gang.

The armed gang manages the mining operation as well as the local drug trade. Picture: Manash Das

“Every once in a while, a group of about 30 people shoots down and spends a month inside the mine.”

An illegal miner uses a pan to sieve for small bits of gold. Picture: Manash Das

When they come back up, the whole township is abuzz: “Suddenly you see people partying and buying expensive alcohol. Then you know that the gold is out.”

The misfit community mostly houses Mozambican migrants. Picture: Manash Das

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