KWAHLATHI, South Africa, June 14 (Reuters) – More than 1,000 fortune seekers on Monday flocked to the village of KwaHlathi in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province in search of what they believed to be diamonds after a discovery of unidentified stones in the area.
The people travelled from across South Africa to join villagers who have been digging since Saturday, after a herd man who dug up the first stone on an open field, which some believe to be quartz crystals, put out the word.
The discovery was a life changer, said one digger Mendo Sabelo as he held a handful of tiny stones.
“This means our lives will change because no one had a proper job, I do odd jobs. When I returned home with them, (the family was) really overjoyed,” said the 27-year old father of two.
Unemployed Skhumbuzo Mbhele concurred, adding: “I hadn’t seen or touched a diamond in my life. It’s my first time touching it here.”
The mines department said on Monday it was sending a team comprising of geological and mining experts to the site to collect samples and conduct an analysis.
A formal technical report will be issued in due course, the department said.
The lack of an analysis of the stones has not deterred the fortune seekers as long lines of parked cars on both sides of the gravel road could be seen just a few metres from the open field, where the young, old, female and male dug through the soil with picks, shovels and forks to find riches.
South Africa’s economy has long suffered from extremely high levels of unemployment, trapping millions in poverty and contributing to stark inequalities that persist nearly three decades after the end of apartheid in 1994. The coronavirus pandemic has made it worse.
Some people have started selling the stones, with the starting price ranging from 100 rand ($7.29) to 300 rand.
The provincial government has since requested all those involved to leave the site to allow authorities to conduct a proper inspection, amid fears the people digging at the site could potentially be spreading the coronavirus.
($1 = 13.7193 rand)
(Writing by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Grant McCool)