South African Students Skip School To Earn Money Refining Gold

South African Students Skip School To Earn Money Refining Gold

South Africa has laws forbidding child labor and child trafficking, but that doesn’t stop school-age children from seeking work in Benoni’s illegal Van Ryn mining fields, according to a report in Ground Up, a Cape Town-based publication producing social justice stories in vulnerable communities.

Moses, 13, (not his real name) quit school to make what he says is easy money spinning unprocessed soil in a phenduka, a gold refining machine.

He mixes the soil with salt, powdered detegent, vinegar and water. He throws heavy metal balls the size of tennis balls into the rusty cylinder and closes it with a tight rubber lid.

He spins a handle with his right hand for 10 minutes, then switches hands in a process lasting about 40 minutes.

With him are other young boys who look about his age, equally muscular from days of spinning the phenduka — it means “changing” in Zulu to suggest how soil particles are transformed into gold, according to Ground Up.

Concerned parents talk about recruiters who lure their under-aged children to work on phendukas. Some call for their arrest. Parents complain that children use the money to buy drugs.

Gold mining companies, once the powerhouses of South Africa’s economy, are in a 20-year decline but illegal miners are thriving, NPR reported.

It’s easy to find black-market buyers in the poor townships near the mines. Zama zamas, the local term for illegal miners, mine shafts considered unprofitable and abandoned by mining companies. It’s dangerous work, and the South African government is trying to stop it. The government has arrested 800 zama zamas this year, according to Mosebenzi Zwane, Minister of the Department of Mineral Resources.

South Africa has more than 6,000 abandoned gold, diamond, coal and other mines and now it has to deal with social and environmental rehabilitation from what was once its most important industry, Pulitzer Center reported.

Thousands of former mine workers are out of work as mines shut down, companies mechanize and resources run out.

The official unemployment rate is more than 25 percent, and many turn to illegal or artisanal mining, which has links to international, organized crime.

Yet artisanal mining is an enormous source of income globally, contributing 15-to-20 percent of the world’s non-fuel mineral production, according to The Conversation.

South Africa has customary mining practices which are recognized by the Department of Mineral Resources. There are many communities considered traditional under the law that are led by chiefs and governed by customary practices and law. Permission to mine falls under these practices. Stakeholders have campaigned for these activities to be formalized and recognized under South African law, but this hasn’t happened.

Creating a legal artisanal and small-scale mining sector creates an opportunity for entrepreneurship for traditional communities, said Kgothatso Nhlengetwa, a lecturer and Ph.D. candidate at University of the Witwatersrand, in The Conversation.