Gold panning has helped me see the world - Pilgrim's Rest resident

2016-07-30 10:17
Gold panning enthusiast Bright Kagiso Malatjie from Pilgrim's Rest (Mpho Raborife, News24)

Gold panning enthusiast Bright Kagiso Malatjie from Pilgrim's Rest (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Mbombela - A little-known sport called gold panning is giving some of South Africa's youngsters a chance to see the world.

One such young man is Bright Kagiso Malatjie who says he has travelled to Spain, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Sweden in the past few years since taking up the sport.

Last year, he was part of a team which won three bronze, six silver, and four gold medals at the World Gold Panning Championships in Spain.

"The competition is supposed to showcase how people used to mine for gold in the olden days in towns such as Pilgrim's Rest," he told News24 during our visit to the town.

Dressed in an orange extended public works programme (EPWP) overall, the 28-year-old said he would not be attending this year's championship because he had committed to a contract to refurbish the historical town's court.

“This year the team is going to the USA, but I won't be going,” he says.

Searching for gold

The sport was established in the town in 1997. Malatjie, who has lived in Pilgrim's Rest since he was a teenager, began taking part in the sport in 2000.

His fastest time is just under one minute and thirty seconds, he says casually.

Participants receive a gold pan and a bucket full of sand in which a predetermined number of gold nuggets are hidden. Only the judges know how many nuggets there are in each bucket. Participants enter pools of water and start washing the sand away to find the nuggets.

The winner is the participant who finds the most nuggets in the shortest space of time. Panners are penalised for lost nuggets.

Malatjie is originally from Limpopo and moved to Pilgrim's Rest with his parents in 1996. He enjoyed growing up in the town. He wants to stay there for a few more years before moving abroad to pursue his musical career.

There is little to no crime and things are not as expensive as they are in big cities, he says. His family is in Johannesburg.

The importance of being politically informed

“I love Pilgrim's Rest because life is cheap here. I can do things here that would cost me money in Johannesburg.”

He is on his lunch break and wandering around the "uptown" part of the town. There is a “downtown” section with more shopping outlets and a local pub.

With earphones hanging over the zip of his windbreaker and a cellphone in his hand, he chats casually with a friend building a car out of wire for a client outside a craft shop.

The car-maker is a Zimbabwean national who jokingly asks "How is my uncle Bob doing?" when he finds out that my colleague Iavan Pijoos and I are journalists. He tells us he does not like speaking about politics and fled his hometown of Gweru more than 10 years ago.

Malatjie, on the contrary, says it is important for people to be politically informed. He says people should not to be fooled by politicians, especially before an election.

He says service delivery in the town is poor and access to quality running water and electricity are a constant problem.

National monument

He thinks part of the problem is that the town does not receive services directly from the municipality, but from the Department of Public Works.

Pilgrim's Rest was one of the first two towns in the country where gold mining began in the late 1800s. It was declared a national monument in 1986, as a living memory of the early days of the gold rush. Since then, the department has been responsible for its maintenance and restoration.

The department rents out properties to independent business owners. A few years ago, it introduced a tender system, according to which the town’s business owners had to apply for five-year leases. The department gave the original tenants 30 days to close shop as they had to reapply for their leases.

Immediately after the evictions, the business owners went to court and lodged a complaint with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Justice Stanley Makgoba halted the evictions in July 2012 pending a review of the tenders after finding that the process was flawed, not fair, equitable, transparent, or competitive.

He ordered the department to give the court and lawyers of the evicted businesses the relevant tender documents for review.

'It was more beautiful, you should have seen it'

Madonsela released her report into the matter in December 2013.  She found the process was characterised by gross irregularities and maladministration.

Since then, some businesses opted to close shop due to high rent, the decreasing number of tourists, and uncertainty about the town's future.

Although the town still attracts tourists during holidays, its economy has taken a hard knock.

“In the early 2000s it was more beautiful, you should have seen it. It was before Public Works closed the shops," Malatjie says.

If he were in charge, he would make sure complaints were followed up on and he would increase the number of generators in the town so more residents had electricity during power outages.

"The roads are not taken care of at all, and the houses that people live in are beginning to sink," he adds.

He is going to make sure he votes on August 3. He wants his vote to make a difference.


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