I have never been to the mine though have heard about it quite often. Realistically, I have never been here long enough during my last two visits to be able to see it as it's a good distance away; about six hours drive from Lusaka
. I have never really shared my dad's enthusiasm for the possibilities of the mine but have always humoured him and listened to what big plans he has. That said, the mining license has been in the hands of JACE Enterprises for the last twenty years but still no mining has started on the property as he doesn't have the capital required to start operations. However, the property right beside JACE's, owned by the company Kariba Minerals Ltd., has been mining amethyst continuously for the last forty years. Funnily enough, my dad is a trustee board member for Kariba Minerals; but, does not want to partner with them to help develop JACE's claim. It's weird situation especially since it's been this way since the mid eighties; but, my father is very stubborn and patiently awaits a loan or some none existent investors, whichever comes first.
Anyways, I was more or less told about the trip to the mine when my uncle Charlie mentioned it in an off hand manner several days before. Charlie is my dad's younger brother who has been living at the mine for the last several years doing little mining but supervising the conversion of the clinic. The drive down is a good distance of approximately that between Ottawa and Toronto and my dad and I were catching a lift with the Kariba Minerals general manager of mining operations, a Mr. Mansa. For the most part the drive goes by rather quickly on the paved roads, but the last 120 kilometers or so is a dirt road that hasn't been graded in the last five years
. Needless to say it was full of pot holes and areas that had been washed out by the rains that occur at this time of year. The road was very bad and made me feel nauseous both on our way to the mine and on our way home again two days later; I've never been car sick in my life so it was a new experience, one that I could do without!
We arrived at the Kariba Minerals guest house around 8 pm Sunday night. The mine is in at the end of the dirt road just outside a tiny town called Mapatizya. Most of its residents still live in the small round grass roofed huts; but, the guest house we stayed in way palatial by comparison, with twelve foot ceilings and enormous rooms. It is located in the Kariba Minerals compound and has a permanent house servant to look after anyone who comes to stay. It's all a bit much in comparison to the surrounding dwellings and sticks out among them but this I didn't notice until the next morning as the sun usually sets around 6:30 pm. The next morning, my dad and I toured the work being done at the clinic, which is about a kilometer down the road. It used to be an old drinking hall back in the early days of the mine but had been sitting abandoned when my father and company decided to convert it to a clinic with the help of World Bank grants to the Zambian government. It was supposed to totally finished by this past July but is unfortunately months behind schedule, held up by a lack of materials and a bureaucracy in Lusaka that doesn't seem to care
. There is one nurse stationed there, working out of a third of the building without electricity and any modern equipment. There is no fridge at present to store temperature sensitive medications and no running water in the building; though water is pumped from a bore hole a kilometer way to a storage tank right beside the building. It looks dismal that the clinic will be finished by the end of this year or even into early next year but at least it's partially open to patients; a success in itself. After the clinic we went to tour the building of the police residences; it is also far behind schedule. There are two housing buildings that will hold four police officers and their families, but only one that is partly finished. However, there are no police presently in the town as there used to be three; two of which died from disease, possibly Aids, and the last who was a drunk and got transfered out. All in all, the town is really wanting for the ordinary services we all take for granted but at least there are slowly coming together. It's just sad it takes so long to get things up and running but then again nothing moves fast in Africa!
From there we finally made out way to JACE's property holdings and I finally got to see what my dad is all excited about. The property, as I said, hasn't been developed except one small out building erected several years ago and two or three grass roofed huts where the family sleeps
. Aside from that the land is untouched, beautiful as the hills are still how they have been for centuries. Here, I met up with my cousin Ignatous, who has been living there for the last several months with his family and his brother, Robert's family. I haven't seen him in sixteen years and it was nice to catch up and meet the new members of the family, including Robert's son, who is named after me. We chatted for the space of an hour or so before I headed out to get my tour of Kariba's mining operations. It was all quite funny how even though my father owns the rights to the neighbouring mine, I was given a tour of Kariba's facilities as if I was important dignitary come to visit. I was taken around the numerous open pit mines as well as the grading and sorting areas. I really have no interest in mining but it was impressive the amount of work that must be done to extract the gems and get it ready for shipping to Lusaka for international export. Unfortunately, the mining itself leaves the landscape scarred and ugly; big holes dug into the hills and left vacant when they stop producing, then on to the next site.... It's not pretty but then again big business doesn't care!
For years my father has always dreamed of getting an amethyst mine up and running in the southern part of Zambia. I have never given it much serious thought as the price of amethyst is not very high to say the least. Zambia has several different minerals that are mined, such as copper and emeralds, all generally for export to foreign markets, almost all of which are more valuable than amethyst. He has always been so excitedly about the possibility of the mine and now his excitement has apparently spread to several other family members; some of whom live on the mine property. Presently, they are also trying to help develop some crucial infrastructure, such as a clinic and police station, for the small town beside the operation and where a lot of the miners live.