Zama gold
Image from: The Roodepoort Record article ‘Zama-Drama’

The ‘Birthplace of the Sun’ novel had to incorporate the story of the Zama Zama, as it is so central to its core theme: Gold.  

It highlights their plight and blight in the hopes of obtaining regulation over an industry gone rogue both for the sake of the miners, and the mining industry, but also for those who suffer because of its lawless environment.

The research not only shows the dangers illegal miners deal with daily but also the dangers they result in.


In February, this year, more than 100 legal miners had to be rescued from a mineshaft collapse at the Makonjwaan Gold Mine, and 3 people are still considered missing.  The disaster sparked an outcry from AMCU and was widely reported in the press.

Yet, an article by CNN  in 2014 told of how a rival illegal mining gang blocked the exit and trapped up to 200 illegal miners alive underground in just one incident.  Some were rescued but untold numbers perished, ‘causing barely a ripple of outrage in South Africa’, they reported.

Illegal mining is mostly done by undocumented foreigners who are desperate for work.  In a country that already has more than 50% of its own youth unemployed, foreigners are usually the last to find formal work and to be protected under the law.

Gold Mining Fatalities:

Mining has always been a dangerous occupation, and gold mining is especially so due to the great depths involved, but it is infinitely more so for the Zama Zama.

Lawless Zama Rules:

Dangers they face themselves, include:

The Illegal Trade of Gold

Whilst the miners take all the dangers, associated with their illegal activities, they get very little for their efforts – around R350 per gram of gold sold in 2014.

The gold traders rake in the millions…just one was reported to have made R17 million in just five months

It is estimated that around 10% of South Africa’s entire gold production is from illegal activities, said in 2013 to amount to a staggering R72 billion.  ‘The South African Chamber of Mines says that more than a hundred and fifty million dollars was lost to zama zamas between 1999 and 2004.’ CNN reported.

In Conclusion:

Of course this is not only a South African problem…but a world-wide one.  Wherever there is poverty and mineral riches there will also be exploitation, such as the Illegal miners in Tanzania using child labour, as young as five years of age.

The South African Civil Society Information Service noted in their article: ‘Illegal Gold Mining in South Africa: The Deafening Silence on the Lives and Deaths of the Zama Zama Miners‘ that at the 2013 congress…the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) realized that, ‘… alongside fighting for decent work for already formally and informally organised workers, entrepreneurial workers who live in the shadows of formality in precarious jobs need to be recognised and organised if a better future is to be realised for all.’

Whilst it is recognized that this is a very convoluted issue with highly irregular and fractured players, which would make an easy fix difficult under any stretch of the imagination, it is hoped that the focus will spur a desire for some beginning to its resolution.

‘Birthplace of the Sun’ gives a very simplistic answer to this very complex problem – a hope almost…to spur action…to get it resolved for the sake of all involved.

Am I being naive to think that with the will anything can be resolved?