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sharing in governance of extractive industries

“Rocky Horror” Historic Artisanal Mining Adventure – Zimbabwean Road Trip

Caption: Zimbabwean historic gold processing tank, after work of geologist Richard Dollar, a geologist with a long history of active gold mining in Zimbabwe

The 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show tells the story of a newly engaged couple, Janet and Brad, who end up lost, disorientated and with a flat tyre on a richt dreich (= Scots for a right dismal & awful) day in late November, somewhere in the southern US state of Texas - a state perhaps better known to many GOXIans around the world for both its conventional (for those of a certain age, think Ewing Oil and the TV series Dallas) and unconventional petroleum sector (e.g. as centred on the Eagle Ford Shale play abutting the Mexican border).

Petroleum is just one half of the extractive industries, and whilst I have undertaken no quantitative analysis, I feel confident in asserting that the number of mining posts handily outnumber those for oil and gas. This post is about mining too, and specifically historic artisanal gold mining, not petroleum. Like the The Rocky Horror Picture Show it also relates the activities of forlorn and wet (but not the weather) November day, this one taking place amidst unrelenting dry heat, such as Texas is more usually associated with, but not in Texas – instead, in Zimbabwe. Like the movie of the same name, it also includes a “Rocky Horror”. This time it’s a car, though.

This GOXI post is also inspired by the festive annual Family Updates that I seem to be increasingly receiving as folded up sheets of printed A4 enclosed within a Christmas Card from friends, relatives and even a neighbour whom I hardly ever bump into in person. However, earlier this year this same neighbour did bump into my parked car with her steel-caged Volvo station-wagon/ estate car and then drove off, failing to report the incident and associated considerable damage caused - luckily, the event was witnessed by a helpful passer-by. Another rocky horror show entirely.

Moving on (back) and to yet another car, the Zimbabwean “Rocky” in question is the Daihatsu make of Ann Kritzinger’s vehicle, Ann being the (fully-signed up) protagonist of this post, based in the eastern province of Manicaland, near Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique, and affiliated to the Zimbabwe Geological Survey. ‘Horror’ is for the three-days instead of six hours it took for Ann to reach Kwekwe, a city located in Midlands province of the country, from her home district of Nyanga. If you are looking for a link back to petroleum, then I simply note that all of the vehicles in this post run on petrol (Rockies run on diesel ... also ‘gas’).

November had started off with a wild bush fire burning to a cinder foliage as close to 10 metres from Ann’s rented Nyanga house, and saw Ann hurling buckets of water on burning grass 3m away from the Rocky parked at her back door. Some ten days later, house secure from the now exhausted flames, on the 18th November 2018, Ann’s friend Robson Bhovhenzi and his nephew loaded her kit on his truck and trailer, and set off for Kwekwe. Ann followed in Rocky. But, less than an hour into her journey the Rocky suddenly developed uncontrollable swings into oncoming traffic and/or pedestrians.So pumping the brakes hard Ann visited a local garage – and all credit to Zimbabwean mechanics and their unheralded service in keeping the nation’s ageing fleet of vehicles on Zimbabwe’s equally ageing, pot-holed, road surfaces, Rocky was very shortly on the lift with a seized, partly melting, wheel bearing cooling down before it could be prized off. Daihatsu agents in the capital of Harare bussed a new bearing to her equally efficient and she was able to drive on to Crocodile Motel where she spent the night.

The following day, worried that Ann hadn’t passed anywhere on his return from Kwekwe after unloading, Robson called her on her cell-phone. Ann stopped to take the call and then awaited Robson’s roadside arrival.She’d hardly stopped when two men jumped out of their cars and said water was flowing from the Rocky’s chronic incontinent problem with its leaky radiator.

In the meantime Robson arrived and immediately put his face down on the engine as if he was giving the Rocky the kiss of life. In a wonderful way he was! He showed Ann a small gap where he could see part of the water pump, which was cracked and full of rust. Cue more repair work.

Still not yet at Kwekwe, Ann stayed that night at a Bed & Breakfast in Harare where, at breakfast, she happened to meet Zimbabwe Miners' Federation chairman, Lufeyi Shato, and who was very keen to hear about her Kwekwe research plans – and who made a generous contribution to helping to pay for all those mechanics. Finally, after three days of travelling, Ann did make it safely to Kwekwe, a city that lies in Zimbabwe’s Midlands province, and in the heart of the gold-rich greenstone belt of the nation’s central plateau. 

Kwekwe is about 210 miles from Harare, and is considerably easier to get to than Nyanga in Zimbabwe’s eastern and mountainous, “manic”, Manicaland province – as evidence that Ann’s trip from Harare to Kwekwe was uneventful, unlike her trip between Nyanga and Harare leading up to it.

Accessibility is also the purpose of this GOXI post. It is, after all, the festive and holiday period of Christmas (to those, like me, who celebrate it) and New Year.   Hence, I kept this GOXI post light on matters of geology, archeology and the particular dynamics of pre-colonial, African, small scale, artisanal gold mining – which is what Ann researches and widely publishes on. Quoting Emeritus Professor T.N Huffman (1974) of the University of Witwatersrand ‘the earliest reliable evidence for gold mining comes from radiocarbon dates of fire-setting at the Geelong and Aboyne Mines”: in each case, a central date of 1170 CE, accurate to about a century either way (see his article in the Journal of the South African Institute of Mining...

My final call to action is to please go and read (free, full-text downloads, held on GOXI-sibling website the EI Sourcebook) Ann’s work online, including:

I am writing this GOXI post not, sad to say, from Zimbabwe but from the UK. I would love to visit Zimbabwe one day, but unfortunately the opportunity has not yet arisen – I know it will do one day. If it seems odd that this particular Rocky Horror story is composed from the UK when its subject matter takes place on another continent, then I would simply point you to the fact that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was also created (shot) in the UK too, specifically at Bray Studios and on location at an estate called Oakley Court, home to many a Hammer Film movie of yesteryear. If Hammer (horror) films such as Dracula (1958) seem an age ago, then just think that that is nothing compared to Nyanga’s pre-colonial gold workings, which date to well before 1492, the year that saw Columbus reach the Americas, the political unification of Spain achieved through the conquest of the Nasrid Emirate of Granada by the armies of monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, and the death of Sonni Ali, first king of the Songhai Empire - which covered some 1.4m square km of western Africa, including the ancient city of Timbuktu, and covering parts of modern day Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria and Niger. 

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Daniel Gilbert, Dundee (UK), written with Ann Kritzinger, Kwekwe (Zimbabwe).

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