For the last one year, Benard Otieno has been frequenting and working inside his usual gold pit at the famous Osiri Matanda Gold Mines near Macalder town. Otieno worries less about the danger that always preys on the artisanal gold prospectors in the region while in their daily errands inside these scary gold pits.
Many have died painful deaths inside the shafts after being buried alive as a result of the pits collapsing due to heavy rains while some have perished after inhaling toxic gasses or drowned inside the pits.
Like his other colleagues who engaged in the game of searching for this precious mineral in this area, what mutterer to him most is how to get gold and sell in order to put food on the table for his family.
Only early last Month, four of his colleagues perished in one of the pits, forcing the local security apparatus to plead for the national government to close gold mining in the region.
And as a government that has the interest of its citizens at heart, having analyzed the number of deaths and threats emanating from various gold mining points in the entire Migori County, it ordered all mining points in region closed.
However, it has become hectic to enforce the ban and especially at the highly famous Osiri Matanda and Kehancha Mining pits where diggers have been sneaking in even at night to do illegal mining.
A KNA crew visit at Osiri Gold Mines this week, a few meters from the local Deputy County Commissioner’s offices revealed that the diggers had not heeded the order by the state banning mining in the area and were not bothered by the lurking danger.
Mr Otieno who the crew interview a few minutes after ascending outside the gold pit he had entered to work in as early as 3 am, vowed to continue with his job even if the state will be hard on diggers by whatever means.
“This is the only place I eke my living and anybody telling me to leave this work is like telling me to surrender my life and that of my family to death,” said the 40 –year –old father of seven.
Not even the danger of dying inside the pits would make him shudder to the point of abandoning his place of work, he said during the lengthy interview.
Like Otieno, Mwise Rioba, another gold digger who has been in the game for over 20 years in Kuria West areas says dying in the gold mines is like dying in a road accident. “I have not seen the government stopping matatus and buses which kills people daily on our roads from going about their businesses,” he said as he munched bananas that he had carried to his work place as his lunch meal this day.
Migori County Commissioner Boaz Cheutich says the government was doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the gold miners despite the many challenges they face in controlling the primitive ways of mining the precious metal by the artisans.
He admits it had become hectic to enforce the ban as the gold diggers had devised others ways of working inside the pits without being noticed. “We have realized that some of the diggers are now entering the pits late into the nights and hide for hours to escape arrest by security officers,” he said. A part from causing deaths to the miners themselves, gold mining has been identified as being one of the worst destroyers of the environment in the area.
An environmentalist John Moseti decried the numerous gaping holes being left behind by the diggers in the area that exposes the local people to risks of falling in and dying at any time.
The gold mines near Kehancha town has also been interfering with learning in the nearby schools and even causing dangerous cracks on the walls of classrooms of private buildings around it, added Moseti during an interview with him in Kehancha town.
By George Agimba