They are known as the zama zama....

Photography : Guillaume COLLANGES     Texts : Sébastien DAYCARD HEID    

Several filtering and washing stages are necessary to gather all of the gold with the mercury.
Once the ore has been broken up and washed, the gold must be separated from the mercury. Experienced illegal miners know exactly how to recognize it.
Near Barberton, illegal miners spend one to two weeks underground. Their solidarity is vital to their survival.
Finally, the liquid mercury is filtered through a fine cloth. The solid gold remains on the surface, in small pellets.
After a night spent looking for the clandestine entrance to the mine, « Rasta » and his team are luckless. The hills around Barberton are full of galeries and old air shafts.
Working in illegal mines is a new deal for the miners. Besides working on the mostly white-owned farms, there are no other jobs avaible for sustaining their life. In Mpumalanga region, quite rural, unemployment is 80%.
Living conditions underground are harsh. Active mines have water taps, but illegal miners often have no choice but to drink the water running on the ground.
Raymond, 54, is too old to work his way down through the air shaft with the illegal miners. Rather, he goes to El Dorado, the mine where he worked when he was young. Eight hours of filtering the slag heaps each day for a week allow him to gather about one gram of gold, which he will the sell for 100 rands (10 euros).
Illegal miners in an abandonned mine. This older miner is examining the rock to assess its gold content.
After several weeks spent underground, it takes a few hours for their eyes to become accustomed to the light. The red diode on their frontal lamps it the signal code of illegal miners.
In this dense forest, on the mine’s private grounds, looking for the access shaft can be both long and dangerous. Walking stealthily and in single file, the miners make one last attempt before the sun rises.
In the small hours of the morning, Rasta and his team find an air shaft. Before they go down, they have to make sure the surroundings are safe. The mine security will sometimes block up these shafts, trapping the illegal miners like rats.
Raymond, 54, is too old to work his way down through the air shaft with the illegal miners. Rather, he goes to El Dorado, the mine where he worked when he was young. Eight hours of filtering the slag heaps each day for a week allow him to gather about one gram of gold, which he will the sell for 100 rands (10 euros).
After a night spent looking for an open air shaft, the miners are weary. They will try again at nightfall. This is the life of the “amahumushas”. They will keep on looking until they find a way in.
In the early morning, the team has found an air shaft. The hole is barely 80 cm large. Ihumsha, a short, muscular man, dives down lithely to examine the hole.
Illegal miners in an abandonned mine. This older miner is examining the rock to assess its gold content.
Inhabitants of Lomshiyo district live in an underdevelopped rural area, without running water or electricity. Their only wealth is the gold, which lies enticingly under their feet.
Having walked all night, Rasta and his team take a break in the early morning. On the menu : cookies, corned beef, soda and joints.
In the tropical forest, Dean sorts out the gold with mercury in a sort of washing machine. Part of the mercury will be recuperated, the rest will pollute the river...