South Africa was once synonymous with gold mining. However, due to massive industrial decline many of the most productive mines the world has ever known lie abandoned and unused. The US Geological Survey estimates that South Africa retains nearly 50% of the world’s unmined gold. In fact, Johannesburg sits on top of the biggest gold basin ever discovered. So, with an unemployment rate estimated between 25 and 40 percent, it’s perhaps unsurprising that abandoned gold mines across the region are seeing an explosion in illegal activity. I had someone told me about gold, there is something called gold. I wanted to know what is gold. Kenneth Damini is a local chairperson for the community policing forum. He regularly attempts to mediate between illegal Miners and the wider community, as well as local law enforcement. There’s three groups in the inner mine. There’s a group, they’re calling themselves Swazi, the other one is they’re calling themselves Sotho because they speak the Sesotho [language], the others is Zimbabwean. Right now they’ve, they’ve got a AK-47 rifle, R1 they’ve got all those things. When I tell them, “guys you get killed in that mine, why don’t you stop?” They say, “what we’re going to eat after that?” Some of them they refuse to work for them, then they just shoot them straight away. Doc is a member of the Swazi gang. He’s been an illegal miner for six years, risking his life daily to try and support his family. mo’ fyah The number of unrecorded deaths in illegal mines is unknown, but according to some observers could number well into the hundreds. Collapses are common, as is sabotage by rival gangs. In February this year, the Swazi’s mine was sealed with concrete by rival miners, trapping an estimated 200 underground until rescue services could dig them out. Several were seriously injured and many were arrested as they surfaced. In late March one of the chiefs of the Swazi Gang was shot dead in a suspected assassination, striking fear into the community that the levels of violence will escalate. These are called stones, these. nxa, you’re okay. Hundreds of zama-zama stay for weeks in the mines living in darkness, kilometers beneath Johannesburg. One of the biggest risks faced by Doc and the other miners underground are the noxious fumes pumped out by the generators used to power the drills. With no ventilation, high concentrations of poisonous gas can accumulate in the tunnels, making them sick, dizzy and causing them to faint. Fellow miners pour water on those affected to keep them awake. If they pass out, there’s a good chance, they won’t wake up. The mine is most at risk of collapse when dynamite found underground is used to break down the rock wall. Doc and his friend Given take their sample of rock to a makeshift processing plant on the squatter camp. They and other Zama-Zamas’ [miners], work tirelessly to make what living they can out of the rock they sweated for underground. Once the gold is weighed, the buyer pays the miners with a street hand off. The price they get for their products at this early stage in the buyer’s chain is just a fraction of the high street value for gold this pure. For this sample – after a whole day underground – Doc and Given are handed only 150 Rand, roughly 15 dollars. In February, the Swazi’s Mine was sabotaged by rivals, trapping Doc and many other miners underground. Doc was injured in the attack leaving him in a wheelchair. After one of Doc’s fellow miners was shot dead in the street in late March, there are fears that the violence will continue to escalate.