Updated: Jan 12, 2021
A WOMAN, CHILD AND DOG WALK PAST A PIT MINE IN AN AREA THAT WAS ONCE FORESTED (Photo Kwei Quartey)
The pit mine above is one of the first I saw, and I was staggered by the breadth. I had seen photographs and videos of such alluvial or surface mines, but none of them accurately portrayed the scale that I was now witnessing. As shown, an adult, child and dog were walking by the pit as I took the photograph, highlighting an ever-present danger from these water-filled pits: accidental slips with falls and drowning, all of which have been reported. There has also been a possible alleged murder committed by a Chinese miner who allegedly deliberately tipped a Ghanaian worker off a bridge into a deep pit of water.
In alluvial or surface mining, pits must be dug to get at gold-bearing gravel, or gold ore, which must then be washed to unveil the gold. In spite of the size of some of these operations, they are still referred to as small-scale mines, in comparison to massive legal operations such as AngloGold Ashanti.
Following is a selection of other alluvial mining sites I saw at different locations, almost invariably illegal, many inactive after the ejection of Chinese miners, but some active:
THIS AREA SHOWS A POLLUTED RIVER TRIBUTARY (CENTER TO LEFT) (Photo Kwei Quartey)
ABANDONED MINE WITH SLUICE BOX NEAR A PIT (Photo Kwei Quartey)
The rusting contraption at the side of the pit is a sluice box, which is used for washing the gravel in search of gold pieces–more on that later.
AN EXCAVATOR–THE BEAST USED TO DIG PITS AND OBTAIN GRAVEL FOR WASHING (Photo Kwei Quartey)
DEEP MOAT TO TRAP INTRUDERS AND ROBBERS, PARTICULARLY AT NIGHT (Photo Kwei Quartey)
A site near a river is often chosen to dig the pits because water can be pumped from the river and used to wash the gravel. The picture below was taken from the hillside of a village.
MINING SITE AND RIVER TRIBUTARY (FOREGROUND) (Photo Kwei Quartey)
WHILE AT THE VILLAGE, I COULDN’T RESIST TRYING THE WATER PUMP (Photo by K.O.)
A NUMBER OF PEOPLE USING A SITE PREVIOUSLY RUN BY CHINESE MINERS (Photo Kwei Quartey)
A BLEAK SCENE INDEED (Photo Kwei Quartey)
GOLD ORE MAY DIFFER WIDELY IN COLOR AND SHADE (Photo Kwei Quartey)
The pit mine above, one of the deepest I witnessed and reportedly a legal concession with extraordinarily rich gold ore, is under close watch by guards. This depth of mine can only be achieved by an excavator.
A WATER PUMP LEFT BEHIND AT A DESERTED PIT MINE (Photo Kwei Quartey)
MINERS’ SHACK EXTERIOR AT DESERTED SITE (Photo Kwei Quartey)
SHACK INTERIOR WITH ABANDONED ITEMS (Photo Kwei Quartey)
HYDROGEN PEROXIDE IS USED IN GOLD LEACHING (Photo Kwei Quartey)
Caught redhanded–Ghanaian military/police forces nabbed the cab operator of the excavator shown below as he attempted to “park” and conceal the excavator in the bush. Thereafter the authorities burned the machine. (I wondered why they didn’t confiscate it instead and designate it for some legitimate building project somewhere.)
CAB OF EXCAVATOR BURNED BY GHANAIAN FORCES AFTER CHINESE FLED (Photo K.O.)
The Ofin (also spelled “Offin”) River shown below is a major river in Ghana that has been subject to much alluvial dredging for gold. In a study by H.R. Dankwa et al in the West African Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 7, 2005, the authors state: “Suspension of large quantities of solids in the water column is one of the immediate physical effects resulting from alluvial dredging . . . Turbidity mainly caused by suspended soil particles adversely affects fish populations . . . High concentration of suspended material restricts light penetration and limits photosynthesis. This negatively affects phytophagous fishes by depriving them of algae . . . ”
ANOTHER SECTION, SHALLOW, OF THE OFIN RIVER AT DUNKWA-ON-OFIN (Photo Kwei Quartey)
When water is pumped out of a river for washing of gold ore and at the same time silt is deposited from the washings, the riverbed rises relative to the river’s surface, which may be what has occurred in the picture above.
STREAM DENSELY POLLUTED BY MINE WASHINGS (Photo Kwei Quartey)
Irregular digging patterns, river course changes, and the construction of mechanically unsound temporary dams by illegal miners have also caused tragic flooding of mines. In 2009, the Ofin River burst its banks and flooded Dunkwa-on-Ofin, displacing over a thousand people and causing at least three deaths. The “watermark” of that flood can still be seen in the town.
(DUNKWA-ON-OFIN) DARKER STAIN ALONG THE BOTTOM SECTION OF THIS HOUSE MARKS THE WATER LEVEL AT THIGH TO WAIST HEIGHT (Photo Kwei Quartey)
And yet, thank goodness that in the midst of all this gloom, we can still find the buoyancy of spirit in the smiles of kids in the very same town of Dunkwa-on-Ofin.
NO ONE ASKED THEM TO SMILE–THEY JUST DID (Photo-of-the-year by Kwei Quartey)
If I had to cast one of these delightful children in the role of Hosiah, Inspector Darko Dawson’s beloved little boy, it would be Kwabena, third from the right. What a award-winning smile.
Next: How to mine for gold in just a few backbreaking steps and guns and ammo