A day after six people were buried alive prospecting for copper in Macalder, Nyatike Sub County, Migori County this week, it is business as usual as local men have resumed their gold prospecting as though nothing happened.
It was business as usual when KNA visited the expansive gold and copper mines in the entire county running from Kitere in Rongo to Macalder, Osiri and Olasi –all in Nyatike, and Kehancha in Kuria West few hours after the tragedy.
The places were swarming with men working in an environment mixed with chocking noises emanating from the numerous stone crushing machines, exposing the determination of the young prospectors to mint quick wealth despite the risks hanging around them.
As usual, the fearless men took time to scale the breadth and the height of the tunnels and pits as they scoured for the minerals hidden underground in many other parts of Migori.
Dressed in tattered clothes and torn gumboots, they display a common wealth lust.
The group usually employs crude methods of extracting the minerals thus exposing themselves to the dangers of losing their lives.
Armed with hoes, mallets, buckets, ropes and any other tools they think can peel off hard rocks from the bottomless pits, the men always work at the mercy of the almighty God as they scrounge the earth’s belly for the precious stones.
During rainy seasons, the pits are a deluge but that does not dampen their resolve to enroll into the league of the rich.
“Our motto is to confront the beast head on to get to all corners of these pits to ensure that the gold deposits are brought on the surface for sale at all cost,” said Mr. David Otieno, whose uncle died in the Wednesday tragedy.
The father of four explained of his 20 years’ experience in gold extracting business.
“Yes! Many of our colleagues have died in these pits. But that does not mean that we stop work. The game must continue at whatever cost since our stomachs also do not stop receiving food and our demands for basic things do not cease at any point,” he said during an interview at the famous Osiri Matanda gold mines.
According to figures availed by the local Red-Cross office and police, up to 35 gold diggers have died at Osiri gold mines alone in the last four years.
The registered deaths were as a result of victims being buried alive after the walls of the pits caved in, suffocating inside the holes from carbon monoxide inhaled from running generators and falling stones and boulders inside the pits and tunnels.
Attempts by the police and the National Administration Service to stop this activity has hit a brick wall following biting poverty as to those involved it is the only major income generating activity in their lives.
The County Commissioner, Joseph Rotich said steps have been put in place to guarantee security of the miners while on their daily errands at the gold mines.
“If only the miners could agree to adopt modern technologies of extracting the minerals, then this business could be the most perfect wealth minting activity in this region,” said Rotich.
Area governor, Okoth Obado said his government was exploring ways of helping miners modernize their way of extracting the minerals with a view to curbing the unnecessary accidents in the mines.
“We cannot continue to see our young men die in these mines when we can help employ the best techniques that can cushion them from the risks faced inside the pits,” he said and urged wealthy investors to partner with his office in solving the problem once and for all.
But even as miners continue to die in these man-holes, many of those in the business lead a life of squalor.
What shocks many is that many of the gold miners are still enmeshed in abject poverty despite the years they have clocked in the business.
“Some still dwell in ramshackle shelters and are unable to educate their children and feed their children properly. We wonder where they take the huge income they claim to be getting from the business,” said South Kanyamkago Ward Administrator, John Omollo.
Many attribute the sorry state of life led by majority of gold miners in Migori County to the careless lifestyle embraced by the gold diggers.
Most of them spend their earnings on merry making.
By George Agimba