BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
A lot has been said about the mining sector in Taita-Taveta county. Besides being one of the key economic pillars of the vast county that is largely semi-arid, mining has remained largely a preserve of a few enterprising investors; who are willing and daring enough to spend substantial amounts of money, and struggling for many years before they strike the gemstones.
In fact it goes without saying that mining is not for the faint hearted, and those who venture into it out of sheer greed for easy riches quickly realise that they were better off doing other businesses. In this industry, patience is required. Some miners have struggled for more than ten years before landing on anything remotely resembling precious stones.
Yet some times, for the patient and prudent, the struggle is worth it. Many mining investors in the county have managed to land on precious stones that have turned them into millionaires and quickly forgot the struggle, the pain and toil that they went through.
From there things change. They say money changes people and some of those who have become multimillionaires from the gemstone trade have ended up in rather tumultuous lifestyles.
Talk about debauchery. They say no weapon is as dangerous as quick money in the hands of a fool.
And true to this mantra, some of the “mining hustlers” who suddenly become millionaires, have gone into record as stuffed shirts and eccentrics of sorts.
Recently, there was drama at Mwatate when some miners who had struck it rich went binging with friends. One of the weird things they did that left many people with mouths agape was to buy crates of soda, pour them into a basin and then went ahead wash their faces!
You can call that foolishness, but there is much more to it.
Once gemstones are struck, towns like Mwatate and Voi are alive with activities as the instant millionaires enjoy themselves, largely drinking and sleeping carelessly with prostitutes. In fact there are widespread fears that most of the gemstones dealers have died of Aids and many more are infected with HIV.
One of the miners used to travel all the way to Mombasa to get prostitutes whom he would transport all the way to Voi town, where he owned a night club, then go ahead to entertain his customers with live sex shows.
Those who were “men enough” to behold the spectacle were given crates of free beer.
The same miner was reported to blow his nose with 1,000 shilling bank notes and throw them to bar maids to pick and use.
There was drama in Voi town when one of them ordered chicken stew with plates meant for customers and went ahead to serve his dog. When the owner, complained, he promptly paid for the food and plate and also gave a handsome tip to the waiters.
“It might be true that some gemstone dealers waste money on beer and prostitution, but there are others who have been quite enterprising and have established thriving businesses, both in Taita-Taveta county and outside”, said Rahab Kiuno, a gemstone dealer.
A recent case that caused eyebrows in Voi sub-county involved a female miner who was alleged to sexually molest workers from her mine by stripping them naked and inserting fingers into their private parts to search for hidden gemstones. Local leaders had even threatened to take legal action against the miner who is also reported to hire young men for sexual orgies in exchange for favours like beer, miraa and cigarettes.
Another miner in Mwatate sub-county had also gained notoriety for abusing workers human rights, chief among them locking potential employees inside the boot of his car and them driving them around the vast mine for hours.
Those who survived the ordeal were said to “pass the interview.”
However, Kiuno agrees that most of the miners and gemstone dealers waste there gains on debauchery and creature comforts.
After that things begin to fall apart. In fact it is not strange to meet a one time gemstone millionaire in Voi who has become so poor and walks around in akala shoes and smoking Rooster, even begging for match boxes to light the same.
Riches here today, gone tomorrow.
There are also other strange stories which border on the arcane and the supernatural. One of the gemstone dealers admitted that cases of witchcraft and devil-worship are also known to exist where the miners use powerful charms and demonic powers to search for valuable gemstones.
He says in some mines, the walls might collapse and kill a number of mine workers before huge deposits of gemstones are struck.
“Some of the miners are believed to be devil-worshippers and have to sacrifice their workers who are killed by collapsing mines. After that gemstones worth millions of shillings are struck” he says, but is hesitant to pursue that line of argument further, adding…
“There are also problems of child labour and prostitution. Some young girls who live around the mining areas, where poverty levels are quite high, are easily lured with easy money from the gemstone dealers and end up dropping out of school to become prostitutes” he says.
The mining business has also been infiltrated by shrewd confidence tricksters who pretend to be enterprising investors out to make quick buck from the trade.
Many have been conned of money and gemstones and lived to regret why they dared venture into the business in the first place.
“Most people get conned because they do not understand the nature and value of gemstones. While it is quite easy for one to venture into the trade out of sheer greed, it takes time and research for one to understand the fine nature of the gemstone trade and the value of the minerals involved. However, this might be addressed once the ongoing gemstone and learning center in Voi is completed, where sellers and buyers of gemstones can be able to exchange ideas on the trade. This will stave off exploitation by middlemen and potential conmen,” said another gemstone dealer and property agent.
1: A mining site in Taita-Taveta county
2 and 3: Assorted gemstones from Taita-Taveta county
PHOTOS- i-MPACT PICTURES and FILE