'Probably fool's gold, but they are desperate'

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'Probably fool's gold, but they are desperate'

A KZN village is in the grips of a 'gold rush' after road workers stumbled onto a seam of sparkling rocks

Jeff Wicks and Lwandle Bhengu

A cloud of dust flies upward as Nontutuko Shebi strikes at the bedrock of the “Marikana” quarry, her hand clutching her hammer as each blow joins the clinking chorus of tools against rock that echoes all around her.Her nine-month-old daughter Okuhle – bound closely to her mother with a blanket – is unperturbed by each strike.
Shebi has come to the shale quarry set in the hills of rural southern KwaZulu-Natal hoping that “gold” locked in the hillside may change the destiny of her youngest child, otherwise bound for a life of poverty.The mother of four, who lives in KwaMachi, like hundreds of others, believes that gold has been found and, with it, wealth and prosperity is close at hand.
“When I find the gold I want to fix up my house and make it pretty,” she says without pause as her hammer strikes stone.As each one breaks she thumbs the rocks, occasionally sliding a glittering shard into her pocket.“I am going through a hard time … I don’t even have a proper house. This gold will change my life a lot.”“I will be able to build a house and be well off. I think the gold is real; I will be very disappointed if it’s not,” she said.
A large contingent of police were deployed to the quarry which lies on land belonging to the local tribal authority.
The village, and the communities which flank it, are in the grips of a gold rush after road workers stumbled onto the seam in the hillside of the quarry on Tuesday last week.
They had unwittingly scattered the “golden” shale all over the rural roads, with rumours quickly spreading about its source.KwaMachi resident Thulani Ncayiyane‚ 28‚ said that roadworkers had first made the discovery last week. 
They had‚ he said‚ used the shale to surface rural roads and stumbled on the “gold”.
“There were trucks working then. They were the first people to find it then we found out about it.
“I then went there to check out this unusual stone. It was very difficult to find it. People even got hurt‚” he added.
Ncayiyane said that he had been driven to the mine by hunger.
“There aren’t any job opportunities. Now I can sell this‚” he said‚ sporting a sparkling rock.
He said that business had been good‚ stopping passing cars and selling pieces of gold for R50.Unable to keep the crowds back, police have erected a barbed wire fence line which may at some point keep people out.
One officer, who spoke to Times Select on condition on anonymity, said that there was no evidence to show that the gold was real.
“This could well be fool’s gold, but all these people are here and they are all desperate. We are trying to maintain a perimeter but we need the manpower to keep them out,” he said.This move to cordon the site, he said, came after two people were injured in a landslide.
“Part of the hill had collapsed because people are just hacking at the rock with whatever they can find and the place is unstable.”
Fool’s gold or iron pyrite is a mineral, unlike gold which is a metal.
But for the hopeful prospectors, the reward far outweighs the risk.
While Zekani Ntaka sits in a shallow hole she had carved out of the ground, screams rise from a crowd closest to the rock face.
Ntaka doesn’t move as the crowd runs, fearful of another rockfall.The mother of six says she had come too far not to find her prize on Wednesday, walking 20km to get to the quarry.  
“None of my kids are employed, I am not employed and I don't receive a grant for my kids who are in high school,” she said.
“I want to build a house because my home is too small and I have no money to fix it. I ask the lord to help me find the gold,” Ntaka added.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said two people were hurt on Tuesday during a landslide at the mining site.
“They were rushed to hospital and we have not opened any case. We have deployed officers to the scene to restrict access and keep people safe‚” she said.
A member of the local tribal authority, who would not be named, said no determination had yet been made on whether the mineral deposits were of any value.
“We don’t know yet but we have sent some of the stones for tests. But we are hopeful,” the man smiled.

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