When school gives way to gold

NKAYI - His peers were making a beeline to Jengwe Primary School for their grade 7 final examinations last week, probably their first “real” hurdle in their academic journey.

However, Bigboy is heading the opposite direction. Gold has become his life, though not so glittering.

The lanky and ambitious 13-year-old dropped out of school when he was in grade 5 because his grandparents could not afford fees.

He in turn, resorted to illegal gold mining —known as makorokoza in the local language — at the abandoned Peace Mine on the outskirts of Nkayi heading to the direction of Silobela.

For two good years, he has been playing hide and seek with the “big gurus” at Peace Mine.

He patiently waits until the gurus, who essentially are hardcore illegal panners, call it a day, for him and a few peers sneak in during the dead of the night.

As soon as the “big guns” leave Peace Mine, Bigboy gets a chance to venture down the dangerous mine shaft and try to ride on his luck to strike gold.

Welcome to the world of a primary school dropout-turned mukorokoza.

Nkayi is a district in Matabeleland North province and is located 168 kilometres northeast of Bulawayo.

To Bigboy, life is about making sure that he digs enough to raise money to carry him through the next day.

The rather cocky and over-confident teenager, who is supposed to be sitting for his finals at primary level, tells the Daily News that he was forced into illegal gold panning because his grandparents could not afford to send him to school.

“My grandparents could not afford my fees and there was nothing I could do. A friend of mine with whom I used to herd cattle with told me that we could make money from illegal gold panning. Since then, we tried our luck and here we are,” says Bigboy.

“I once got 10 grammes of gold and I made a killing from it,” Bigboy says.

He is supposed to be writing his grade 7 final exams but he cares less about school and more about money.

Bigboy is not alone in his case. Many primary-going school children around the area have abandoned their education in search of gold which has however, claimed the lives of many people.

Their situation is worrying even to the most hard-core illegal miners.

Mthulisi Dlamini, an adult korokoza says the young boys are risking their lives in illegal gold panning and there is need to get them back to school.

Dlamini notes that the rampant poverty pervading the area has forced the small boys into illegal gold panning.

“Due to the drought most households in the community did not harvest enough yields and as such they are forced to buy a 20kg maize sack for $10. Not many residents can afford this, let alone school fees. This lives a lot of children stranded and they turn to illegal gold panning.

But this is a dangerous expedition as they enter deserted mine shafts without proper mining equipment.

In some cases, illegal gold panners have died inside the mine as shafts collapse and trap them inside.

But this has not deterred Bigboy and his peers as they view this dangerous trade as the “only way out”.

Bigboy’s friend, Washington Ncube, a 14-year-old Makorokoza says he dropped out of school when he was in grade 7 because he no longer had the desire to attain intellectual enlightenment.

To Washington, the next best thing to trekking to South Africa is gold panning. “I do not regret leaving school. I am making money,” he says. - Lloyd Mbiba

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