This must be one of the craziest times of my life. It looked like such a good business when I started with it and I thought it would be my big break in life.
I left Annalie to run the business back in Hartbeespoort and set off on a fact-finding mission to Malawi. I got an order to supply container loads of beryl to a Chinese company. So off I went to the North of Malawi with my trusted Mitsubishi pick-up. It takes you three days of hard driving to get up to Mzimba in Malawi from South Africa.
I teamed up with Donald who had contacts with many miners. We fixed up Donald’s pick-up and had wheels. But the poor pick-up always seemed to be on its last legs. I still remembered the feeling of freedom when I stood in areas where man has not yet destroyed everything. The Mopani bush stretched for miles and miles and the sound of the cicadas is something that sticks to you and never leaves you. We were hunting beryl and what a hunt.
There were pegmatites everywhere and traces of beryl could be found in all the pegmatites. Some of the existing holes looked like it was dug by giants.
They were very big. I landed up in areas where there were several tons of beryl already collected and all my senses told me that this was a great opportunity.
I registered a company and had my samples tested in London and they turned out to be exactly what my client wanted. Now it remained to extract the beryl from the ground. I opened 8 mines at once and mined them by hand. At each mine, there was a camp and at each camp, there was a cook. We bought small Capenta fishes that smelled so bad. We bought these by enormous bagfuls. The miners loved these fishes. I could not stand them. The taste was revolting. Once a week every mine had to be replenished and the beryl had to be collected and I transported another bag of smelly fish. At every mine, I left a mobile phone and added just enough data to the phone to report the finds. One by one our mines disappointed us with thefts and low production. And I had to close them down and move the miners to new pits. At one place we strike gold and beryl crystals that weighed several hundred kgs came out.
I remember the one crystal that was taller than me and the only way we could move it was to break it up. I filled 3 containers of 26 tons each but then I had enough of mining low-grade beryl.
I then decided to try my hand at mining for gems. The last mine was a gem mine where gem-quality aquamarine was found in an alluvial bed of rocks. The mine was half-filled with water and we needed strong pumps to mine this place.
At this stage, I slept right next to the mine in my tent to guard the gems. Many times I caught the miners stealing the best stones as they came out. I remember the one day I paid the miners and body searched them one by one and found a large stash on one of the miners. He had more gems on him than what I mined for 3 days. That is when I realized that I could never win this game. I also could not determine where they mined before because they moved the soil from one spot to the next and I was mining in areas that were already depleted. It was a hit and miss affair.
We then traveled to China with our aquamarine and had it cut in China. I ended up with bags and bags full of gems that were cut.
It took me almost 8 years to sell all stone by stone. What did I learn? I learned that these programs where people make huge fortunes out of gems in Africa are all staged. It is not easy. I always said that you first had to know where you will sell something before you buy it and I still stick to that belief.
Three years of my life were spent in Malawi mining. I had such an interesting life thus far but my journey is not yet over. In fact, it is just the beginning. I would love for you to own one of my artworks. Please let me know what the difficulties are in navigating the website and let me know which artworks you are interested in.