Hiplife blog: „I don’t want to die suffocating underground”

Egert writes a blog from Ghana. See what he’s doing there.

The situation with illegal gold mining is still critical. As I have previously written, the government has banned it (95% of gold mines in Ghana are illegal, meaning that everyone had the right to mine gold) and people have great doubt about this political decision. The ban has caused a crisis: in towns and villages where gold mining was the main source of income, the number of armed robberies and thefts have increased. The people dependant on mining as well as shops, hotels, and bars have lost their income.

Illegal mining can be very dangerous for the employees as well as harmful for the nature and this was one of the reasons behind the ban. Often the mines employ also underage workers and one of them – Fenn – agreed to share his experience.

When did you start working in the gold mine and what did you do there?

My parents didn’t have enough money to support my education and I had to start working in the gold mine when I was 15. I started with the easiest and most safe assignment: sifting the sand on the ground.

Gold mining on the ground: washing the sand

This is the kind of work that is usually done by minors in these mines. I soon noticed that this work didn’t earn me any money and tried to look for gold in the water. This proved to be too difficult and I couldn’t do it for very long. Then I went to work in the underground mine.

Gold mining in water, physically the hardest way to search for gold

This is a dangerous job, because the mine could collapse, but I could also make more money there. Usually we worked in the team of 8, one group went to work at 6 a.m. and finished at 3 p.m. Then the other group went down there and came out by midnight.

Did any accidents occur at the mine?

I have been involved in serious accidents twice in two years, but I have also witnessed many deaths. A typical accident is when the mine collapses while you’re under the ground. When this happens, an excavator will come to dig open the ground and help the men get out. After the first accident I started thinking about the difficulty of the work. I had been there for two years and I asked myself: why am I here? why do I risk my life for this? I discussed it with others and my firend said he didn’t have enough money to give up the job. I called my mother as well. She said I should come home and not put my life in danger anymore. I didn’t tell my parents, but I decided to try once more.

Gold mining underground, the most profitable method

What made you finally quit the job?

I worked for two more weeks and then the second collapse took place. It was huge. We were eight people underground, there was no air, no excavator to get us out. We had to wait 3-4 hours until the machine arrived from town, 4 of the miners suffocated before they could be rescued. After I got out from there alive, I decided not to do this job anymore. I went to my boss and asked for my salary, but as we were paid after every three weeks, I would have had to work for another week to get my money. I decided not to wait for it and went back home.

What kind of safety measures did you use in the mine?

There aren’t many physical safety measures, you’d have to buy them yourself. Therefore many esoteric protective measures are used. For example we use tsu-tsu. In order to get it, you go to a priest and explain that you work in a mine and need protection. He gives you a ring with tsu-tsu in it. When you’re in the mine and something starts to happen, like a collapse, the ring begins to squeeze and then you know you have to get out from the mine. This is what we believe and sometimes it helps.

Was there anything else you didn’t like about the work?

I didnt’s like the fights that were happening either. They mostly occured when you went to someone elses mine if you didn’t find any gold from your own. I don’t like physical contact, but fights were part of the everyday life in these mines.

Also, human sacrifices were brought to the gods in order to find more gold. If you go to work every day and do not find any gold for a week, people there start to think that gods need sacrifices. Often the weakest man from the team will be chosen as the sacrifice. Then, when he is under the ground, a rock will hit him or something similar will happen. Usually the disappearance of the man will not be noticed because he might be from another town. For all this, gold is often referred to as bloody money. 

But not only men work in these gold mines, women  also carry rocks for example. Also, there are high levels of prostitution in there areas.

What did you do after you quit your job in mining?

When I came bak, I went back to school to finish my high school education. Also, I started to learn surfing. I did it every weekend when there was no school. I learned surfing with an European who opened a hotel and a surf school here. He also gave me a tablet so I could learn to be a DJ and do music. I worked for him for to years, gave surf lessons and played music in the evenings. Finally I quit, because in his view I should have worked for free because he had trained me. After this me and my friends opened our own surf school. I work there now and we are doing pretty good. I play music at hotels during weekends which allows me to put money aside for college.

Fenn in front of his surf school

Do your friends still work in the mines?

Yes, but they cannot do it at the moment, or if they do, it is even more dangerous. Since the government has banned illegal gold mining, the military can come every moment and if they catch you, you’ll be arrested. At the same time their families need to eat, so the miners look for places feep in the woods, because the military won’t go there.

My friends are not as rich as the Chinese, who can buy themselves out. If you pay enough, they tell you when the raid is going to be, so you know that you shouldn’t go mining that day.

My friends cannot give up their jobs in mining, because they haven’t gone to school and these mines are the only place to get a job without education in Ghana. Of course I have tried to persuade them to quit, but they tell me that they can’t buy food on the table by going to school.

Cleaned gold: this is what the miners risk their lives for every day

What do you think about the governments plan to ban illegal goldmines?

I somewhat agree with it. Something has to be done, because our nature and drinking water are at risk. But I do not agree with the way they are doing it. They should stop the Chinese from mining, because they use big machines and ruin our forests and water. Local only use their hands and small machinery to mine gold. Some kind of terms should be established in order for the locals to continue their work. After the ban, many of the miners have turned into crooks and started selling narcotics to make ends meet.

Unfortunately gold miners often don’t think about tomorrow, which means they don’t have any savings. Those who have economized can live through these times.

What are you expectations for future?

Actually I don’t always like to surf either, sometimes the water is so cold when I have to give lessons. I do it to collect money for college, I would like to study IT in the future.

State’s campaign to end illegal gold mining

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