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By Dirk Lotriet

Editor


A zama zama mother’s story of sacrifice and love

Ma’am, I pray for you. You are a diamond. One of the shiniest examples of a jewel in the tough digging fields of life itself.


I think there will always be something magical about the wonder of motherhood. I’ve been touring Namaqualand for the past week and yesterday I have seen what parenthood really means.

For days, I have talked to artisan miners – better known as illegal diggers in these parts or zama zamas in the rest of the country – and learnt first-hand about the forbidding conditions in which they have to work to earn a pittance to just stay alive.

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One of these illegal diggers is a woman of 43, who has worked the digging fields for years to raise her three children. She lost her husband to cancer early in her life and headed to the dangerous tunnels of this punishing part of South Africa to care for her offspring.

It’s dusty, physical labour in temperatures of well over 40oC – and that’s only above ground. In the dangerous tunnels excavated by the diggers by hand, it’s much hotter. They even have to learn how to breathe underground, where oxygen is limited, just to stay alive.

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Then, this tiny woman has to carry heavy bags of gravel on her back for miles – often to find that the gravel which she has battled to get from the bedrock, carries not a single diamond. And when she finds one of the shiny stones, she gets swindled by unscrupulous, unlicensed dealers who pay her a pittance for the fruits of her labour.

But when she talks about her children, she shines like a diamond. All three have completed school, but she still looks after them.

“I want to make sure their tummies are full every day,” she says, despite the fact that the cruel work she does to put food on the table, cuts years from her own life. She smiled while telling me about the hard times when she didn’t even have a crust of bread to feed the little ones, but she has always made a plan.

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“There was always a diamond waiting when times were at its most difficult,” she told me. “Even if it’s just small ones.”

I have complained for days about the long, dusty roads. I have found it difficult to live out of a suitcase. But this woman has shown me what hardship and dedication is. Ma’am, I pray for you. You are a diamond. One of the shiniest examples of a jewel in the tough digging fields of life itself.

ALSO READ: De Beers’ new SA mine delivers first diamonds

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