Porcupine quills filled with gold

Dear Family and Friends,

Since Christmas we’ve been watching, wide eyed and open mouthed, the developments in Zimbabwe’s latest gold rush. This time it’s in Kwekwe where nuggets, metal detectors, panning, digging, pounding and hammering are the words on everyone’s lips.

Stories of gold rushes from the old days of our history get blood pumping and hearts racing. Outlandish adventures, outrageous exaggerations and the wildest characters you can imagine taking part in the frenzied search for gold. Myths, legends, facts and fiction all become a heady, swirling, maze: tales that Fig trees were apparently planted to mark sites that needed further exploration; pegged claims being swopped for cases of whisky; porcupine quills filled with grains of gold being found in the back of dusty, musty caves.

Zimbabwe’s latest gold rush began with stories that 100 kilograms of gold nuggets had been found. Fact or fiction wasn’t important, the thought alone triggered the stampede. A Midlands police spokesman said the gold alluvial had been discovered near the Munyati River in the Sherwood Farming Block, about 20 kilometres outside of Kwekwe. At first there were reports of approximately four hundred gold panners trying to get a look in. Within a couple of days the press reported that thousands of people were pouring into Kwekwe to join the gold rush. Mayhem and politics was hot on their heels.

Armed police with dogs arrived and chased the gold panners away saying: "We want sanity to prevail while we identify the proper owners of the mining claim.” Violence broke out and the police made a confusing statement which has left us still wondering exactly what went down. “No one was killed. Only a few rogue thugs who intended to pan, threw stones at the police,’ said a police spokesman. Kwekwe hospital opened its doors and took in casualties. One man had sixteen stitches in his head after being beaten with a shovel.

Next on the scene was Zanu PF. Hundreds of panners who had been chased away from the Sherwood Block gold field attended a rally addressed by Owen "Mudha" Ncube, the Zanu PF Midlands security official. The press said Ncube announced that the gold deposits belonged to Zanu PF. He said Zanu PF had fought in the liberation struggle to ensure that Zimbabweans owned their land, and the minerals in it, and therefore had rights to control who mined at the gold fields. NewsDay reported that Zanu PF had started making a list of people who would be allowed to mine the gold field when it re-opened and this led to a frenzied scramble for Zanu PF membership cards with 3,500 being sold in the first two days. The cards sell for one US dollar each so this seemed like a very good way to make money too.

Meanwhile the Midlands police spokesman said at least four people had laid claim to the Kwekwe gold field and the police were waiting for the Mines Ministry to adjudicate between them. No prizes for guessing who wins this one.

Gold fever in Kwekwe in 2012 left me looking for anecdotes about gold mines in the area from the past. I came across reminiscences of the wife of a former manager of the famous Globe and Phoenix Gold mine. Mrs Atkinson wrote about the new railway line that had opened in November 1901 and went from the mine to Harare, a journey previously undertaken with pack mules and donkey carts: “The railway journey took about four hours… Not only did the train driver stop to collect more fuel by chopping down a tree or two but if he spotted a herd of buck or a flock of guinea fowl, he would go after them on foot and shoot ‘for the pot.”

‘The law of the jungle where the strongest survive’ is how the diamond human rights monitor Farai Maguwu described the recent scramble for gold in Kwekwe. Not much has changed in the last hundred years. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy 14th January 2012. Copyright © Cathy Buckle. www.cathybuckle.com

For information on my new book “IMIRE”, about Norman Travers and Imire Game Park, or my other books about Zimbabwe which are all again available: “Innocent Victims,” African Tears,” “Beyond Tears;” and “History of the Mukuvisi Woodlands 1910-2010”, or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact [email protected]

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