New gold rush hits Mpumalanga

2012-10-13 16:10

“Timekeepers, are you ready? Competitors, take your positions! Pan!”

The competitors stand in a row in pools of water up to their ankles. They empty sand into the pans in front of them, then they begin to shake them, scrambling for hidden gold nuggets.

After about two minutes, those who have finished raise their hands and begin stepping out of the pools.

“Pool number 16! Pool number 4!” the master of ceremonies bellows as each contestant finishes.

The contestants join a new row, this time to have their nuggets counted and to receive their results.

A small crowd watches. Some are clapping for their team-mates, others are taking photographs and yet more pay no attention at all, preferring to wander around the venue enjoying their drinks.

Welcome to the World Gold-Panning Championships in Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga.

The competition, which ended last week, drove more than 500 gold panners from around the world to the small heritage town.

With their friends, families and fans, 1 200 people spent the week in and around Pilgrim’s Rest.

The winner gets a ticket to next year’s championships, but there are no other prizes.

Gold panning is also not a test of competitors’ physical or mental strength.

So why do the panners do it?

“The amount of gold doesn’t matter,” says Matt Kalama (69) from Ballarat, Australia.

“I meet people from all over the world. We enjoy a party together. It’s the people you meet. That is the deal.”

Finland – where the first gold-panning competition was held in 1974 – sent 70 participants to South Africa this year.

Among them was Maija Keranen from Tornio. She has panned all over the world for the past 20 years.

“This is for making good friends, new friends and it’s a good hobby.”

World Gold-Panning Association president Arturo Ramella said the South African competition had been a success.

The Mpumalanga department of culture, sport and recreation allocated R1.4?million to the event, which is South Africa’s second World Gold-Panning Championship.

The association’s vice-president, Sweden’s Ken Karlsson, runs a gold-panning school back home.

“The good thing is you don’t have to be a champion to participate. This attracts people. After training, I tell them to follow me to the next gold-panning championship,” says Karlsson.

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