On Mining

(Or How to Grow a Gold Mine – Part 3)

One Friday noon, I was on my way back to the mine from the weekly supply shopping tour into the nearest town. The boot filled with gasoline, diesel, fresh mangoes and dozens of baguette for my neighbours and me. I saw the bush burning. The closer I came the more obvious it became that the whole bush around the mine was on fire and flames were moving forward to my fuel and machinery store. Because it was a Friday, in an African Muslim country, I had only two men guarding the ground. They now were trying to fight the disaster by shovelling sand onto the flames with little to no effect. The flames were coming closer and closer. Luckily I had a fire hose and extinguisher tip for my water pumps in the storage. Unfortunately they didn’t know the meaning of those tools up to my arrival. Soon after, the flames were killed. The bush was still smoking and they explained what happened. They saw a snake under a bush and wanted to kill it by setting the bush on fire but then things got a bit out of control.

If I had been half an hour late that day I would have lost everything – all of my water pumps, drills, my excavator, winches, the Goldfield Explorer wash plant and even the buckets and shovels. Everything that I had been working with for seven long years could have been lost in a single moment.

Seeing an African goldmine as an outsider for the first time, you might consider it to be nothing more than either a muddy open pit or a few dangerously unshored, narrow tunnels with an entrance no more than a hole in the savannah, about the width of a man’s shoulder. Maybe looking a bit like an innocent well, lazy, snoozing in the heat with dirty men working with hoes and shovels, filling the gravel into buckets and women with huge beige calabashes, washing the paydirt by hand.

My African partner Fou and me decided it was time to change these conditions and add a bit of modern equipment to the game. After years of preliminary reconnaissance, prospecting and exploration I had filled a forty-foot container with a white Nissan Pajero and an aluminium trailer full of mining stuff and sent it from Europe to Africa. Meanwhile I myself drove through the Sahara desert in my silver Toyota Landcruiser. Weeks later everything had arrived safely in the bush where I had my claim and where, finally, I established the mine.

Fou had hired a troop of thirty diggers and I lead them to a promising spot in an old dry riverbed. My exploration results had told me about a half a meter wide layer of seven-PPM paydirt in fifty-foot depth. I planned to dig a broad vertical shaft to that bed and then continue with horizontal shored tunnels. My conservative calculations showed that we should be able to get and wash about fifteen metric tons per day once we have reached our ground level. Meaning an estimate of about three ounces per day or ten kilos of twenty-two carat gold in the remaining months until the next raining season starts. Well, that didn’t sounded too bad to me and would leave us enough profit to return with even bigger and better machines in the next season.

Ok, honestly I have to confess, reality came a bit different, but that’s part of another story. First we reached a thin layer of ground water at five-foot depth and I decided to dig a few drainage channels further up of the current, to prevent the water from leaking in our freshly excavated shaft. Then we had to dig ourselves through a very hard layer of quartz sand but finally we reached our ground level and began with the tunnelling work…

And that’s mining! Using the carefully gathered information from prospecting and exploration to locate a spot where to start and then using the accumulated money to pay your bills and reinvest the remains. It is a long but very exciting and joyful way from your first finds to the operating mine. But once you have done it for the very first time, you become an addict wanting to do it again and again. You can’t help it. You simply have to do it. You become an unstoppable gold-digger!

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