In the morning we drove to Sekenke mine 1. I did not recognise much of the route. Only the drop down from the high side of the Great African Riff into the Wembere swamp where the Sekenke ridge of some 20-50 m sticks above the plain. The descent down onto the plain is new (2008). The old descent was steep and is not used any more. Too many accidents with all the trucks going up and down. At Shelui we turned off the tarmac road on to a bumpy sand road and after some 20 km we arrived at the mining area (mined from 1909 – 1959). What was first an open landscape with a few left over structures from the closed mine is now a dense village on top of the new mine. Small individual mining has always been done but since 2015 the work has intensified. Especially after the Chinese also started up business.
Everywhere are trenches dug into the ground to locate the gold containing quarts reefs. Once it was found a small shaft is sunk to mine the reef from below. In total there are some 50 shafts dotted around the hillside. The main shaft, we had closed off some 45 years ago, is now in use again. One side is used for pumping out the water and the other for hauling up the ore from the 2 levels they are working on. The old open pit section of the mine is clearly visible. But now there are more such deep trenches. Some of them also with a shaft to one side. You have to watch out where you walk. You could drop down into an abandoned shaft. One of the (many) foreman showed me around. It appeared that there is some kind of corporate ownership. At least I think so because I was introduced to several people who have a stake in the mine(s). Miners mine the rock which is brought up and stored in large bags. I think they get paid per bag. These bags are then spread out among others who then hammer the larges pieces of rock to smaller 1-2 cm parts. These are then further grinded down in a rotating barrel which I assume has balls or rods in it. The powder is then mixed with water and flows down over a sluice box which is covered with coarse cloth. The gold is expected to get stuck in the cloth. This is then washed clean in a pan by hand and the remaining powder mixed with mercury to extract the gold. They realise it is poison but do it anyway. The mercury is then later distilled to relief the gold. Unfortunately I did not see this part. I am not sure if the figures are right but my guide said that some 50 gr. of gold is retrieved per day. This does not sound like much given the hundreds of people involved in the process.
The guide was able to show me some of the old mining structures which we used during our mapping and sampling project in 1977: a ramp, a large generator house and the stamp mill (see photos of 1977/78. The ramp is now covered with shacks and a bar. The stamp mill is totally gone. The stamps must have been removed.
For contrast on the other side of the road, a bit down the hill towards the river, is a new (5 year old) Chinese run mine. It has a large fence around the area and inside there is no chaos. There are 2 shafts with proper winching equipment. A large generator house and further down the slope is modern grinding equipment. The grinded rock is mixed with NaCN to extract the gold. This chemical is also very poisonous. I saw a small recycling pond but no settling pond. It must be there somewhere. How the gold is removed from the solution I do not know. I have to look back into my old mining books. The security guard brought us to the Chinese manager. He refused to see us. Also the other 2 Chinese we met were not very welcoming. This in contrast to all the friendly faces I saw on the Swahili side of the mining concession.
In the mining office, I showed all my old photographs of the area. They were most interested in the group pictures and tried to recognise some of the people. They did remember Rudi, but that was not me but Rudi Kouwen, who also worked for our project. He spoke Swahili. One man wore an Oman Air T-shirt. He is obviously from Arab decent. I asked him to bring us to the old Sekenke trading town. The 3 km road became very bad and the river crossing over a broken up stone bridge is hazardous. The old road into the village was washed away and another one ran to the side of the village square. Some older people gathered around my computer and recognised most of the Sekenke villagers I had photographed back in 1977. One of the buildings on the picture is still there but pretty run down. I think the village, which was already on its way down after the closing of the mine in 1959 is now totally run down. This in contrast to the new very lively settlement of top of the hill.
We left around 14:00 hrs and drove further north over the plain. In several area’s rice is being planted. It feels like the rains have started so the planting is being intensified. In Shinyaga I asked around for a reasonably priced place to sleep. It became The light dream lodge. The room is better and cheaper than yesterday ($15) and there is a working aircon. This time I had fish with the local starchy Ugalie (or sima), a local stable filling food made from maize flour. I had light at the table so eating the fish was less hazardous.
Awesome pics!…. Some reminded me the Didi family (Arab descents) who owned shops at Sekenke!….Felt nostalgic when I remembered the ‘Ikonkilangi Village’ across the seasonal river up north where we used to visit during weekends!…Time flies!…It seems just like yesterday…..Kudos to you Rudy!
Intrigued with your adventures in Sekene. I was born in Kiomboi, the grandson of Commandatore Bicchieri who operated the Sekene mine until it shut down in 1959…. actually… operations continued until the family was forced to leave following independence, and the properties were nationalized in 1970 – part of a long riches to rags story for my family. The stone bridge over the Kironda River is probably the one my grandfather and uncles built.
My father is the last survivor of those adventures (97), and unfortunately has lost his sight. My father wondered what happened to the American missions… who provided schools and hospitals.