ROODEPOORT, South Africa (AP) â¿¿ Julius Mthembu's mud-spattered face lit up as he held a tin pan and pointed to the glimmering flecks of hope lying among sand and water: gold. The find meant the 48-year-old would eat that week.
"It's difficult. I don't make a lot of money here," Mthembu said as beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. The Mozambican and his countryman Santos Viriato have been gathering dirt from the shuttered Durban Deep mine and sifting it for leftover gold for two months.
South Africa, once the world's foremost gold producer, has been experiencing a labor upheaval in its critical mining sector, and Mthembu and Viriato are emblematic of both the troubles and the hope that persists, with not only gold but also platinum, chrome and other minerals remaining untapped.
A violent six-week strike at a Lonmin PLC platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg ended Sept. 18 after a pay hike of as much as 22 percent was given to the miners. The deal inspired thousands of workers in other mines to lay down their tools to seek higher wages. Mthembu and Viriato said they had been contract workers at another Lonmin mine â¿¿ mostly working on pipes through the mines â¿¿ and that they were laid off when the company they worked for lost money during the strike.
They wound up near a highway outside Johannesburg, sifting through the soil around the shuttered gold mine and hoping to strike it rich or at least eke out a living. Dozens of other men and women were also participating in illegal mining, working in makeshift operations in a sort of gold rush not far from the skyscrapers and highways of Johannesburg, still marked by towering mustard-colored mine dumps, a leftover from the city's heyday in mining.
"We want money and we have no choice," Viriato said.