In Summary
  • On a busy day, Mr Juma spends up to 12 hours more than 600 metres beneath the earth's surface.
  • The miners skilfully dangle on the ropes tied around their waist.
  • Once the gold-bearing rocks are excavated, there are people waiting by to fill the sacks.

At the tender age of 13, Tobias Juma ventured into the painstaking search for flecks of gold in Migori mines, joining hundreds of other families in the pursuit of the elusive fortune.

It has been his way of life for the last 32 years.

Every day, he joins other miners chiselling layers of gold-bearing rocks in the winding dark underneath and goes into an overdrive to make ends meet, oblivious of the risks involved, including a possible collapse.

STILL HOPEFUL

Now 45 and a father of eight, Tobias is still hopeful that one day he will carve out a fortune from the deep pits of the shanty Osiri Matanda gold mine in Nyatike Sub-County.

“I don’t have any other choice but to fend for my family as I make ways to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty,” said Mr Juma, who is among an estimated 5,000 miners in the small dusty centre.

“A soldier dies in the battlefield,” he declared.

On a busy day, Mr Juma spends up to 12 hours more than 600 metres beneath the earth's surface in the venture that he depends on to fend for his family.

LOWERING GEAR

When Nation caught up with him in one of the mines, he had a torch strapped to his forehead as he prepared to be lowered down by makeshift lowering gear made of wooden planks and a rope.

The miners skilfully dangle on the ropes tied around their waist, by holding onto them with both their hands in order to land safely in the mining shafts.

Inside the mine, he meets hundreds of other underground miners who work hard on a daily basis in pursuit of a piece of the world’s most coveted precious metal.

Operating in an area where there are more than 30 active pits, the miners have developed an expanded cave underneath which has forced pit owners to demarcate their boundaries as a way of preventing conflict and promoting harmonious working environment.

LOW OXYGEN

While the underground teams conduct their duties free from sweltering sun, they are forced to contend with a low supply of oxygen as they go about their business.

Once the gold-bearing rocks are excavated, there are people waiting by to fill the sacks which are then winched outside the mine hole before being transported for crushing to extract some specks of gold.

“I have never lost hope as I work on a daily basis searching for gold,” says Mr Juma, who gets as little as Sh1,000, and over Sh10,000 on a good day, depending on his luck.

However, according Mr William Odhil, who owns a mining pit at Osiri Matanda, which is one of the biggest in Migori County, miners are only extracting 20 per cent of the mineral due to the crude technology they use.

SAFETY EQUIPMENT

Unlike the neighbouring Tanzania which has supported miners with the latest technology of extracting the metal, he said most of the traders in Migori County operate manually, without safety protection equipment like helmets, reflective wear, ear plugs, gloves, generators and boots, among others.

Mr Odhil, on the other hand, blames the national and county governments for abandoning the gold ventures, which he estimates to be generating millions of shillings in annual returns.

“It is unfortunate that the local miners are not being provided with licences to enable them collaborate and partner with donors or financiers to secure finances to purchase the expensive equipment which is beyond the reach of small scale miners,” he said.

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