Translated by Erik Myxter
On May 15th The 21st Century Business Herald out of Guangzhou published a thrilling article about Chinese illegal gold mining activity in Ghana. The following is a translation of that article.
21世纪经济报道 梁钟荣 南宁、深圳报道 2013-05-15 00:57:39
“Shanglin County Clique’s” African Gold Rush: Get Rich or Die Trying
21st Century Business Herald Reporting from Nanning: Liang Zhongrong Shenzhen reported May 15, 2013
In the first picture a Chinese man is holding a big piece of gold, while his black bodyguard stands behind him holding an AK47; In the second picture a young Chinese man holds his black wife in his arms while joyfully laughing.
These two pictures were sent from Tan Xinhua. Mr. Tan introduces the photos, saying that the people in the picture all come from the same village in Shanglin County, Guangxi. They also are all investors in Ghanaian gold mines. Some people say that in Ghana there are about 50,000 people who come from Shanglin County. Often called “The Gold Coast”, Ghana’s small-to-medium sized gold panning mines are almost all run by people from Shanglin. They all mine nugget gold.
“There are restaurants where there are only Chinese people, if there is a place with gold, you will find people from Shanglin (county).” explains Tan Xinhua. Mr. Tan is part of the post-80’s generation and like many young people from Shanglin County, he never finished high school before he left for Ghana. In Kumasi, Ghana, there are many independent panners of gold, Tan Xinhua is one of them and for three years he has never returned home. His only connection back home is through calling his parents. His three-year goal is to become a millionaire.
The Shanglin Clique of gold miners first arrived over eight years ago. The sweat and toiling of the miners, the instant riches, the armed fighting and the constant struggle which occurred in the American 18th century gold rush is now happening in Ghana. Some people who are responsible for the fighting are deported, some have lost their lives to gang violence, others have contracted terrible diseases and been buried in this foreign place.
Most of the people who go to Ghana come back home; Some people come back home with only a handful of gold to give to their loved ones; while others on their layover from Hong Kong to Guangxi, give a call to order their Nanning villa and a Ferrari. In the last eight years, more than three people from Shanglin have shown actual proof that their net worth has been valued at over 100,000,000 yuan ($16 million).
At the same time, there is a seemingly irreconcilable, love-hate relationship between the Ghanians and the people from Shanglin. From the view of a local, Shanglin businesses employ many workers, but at the same time they burn an excessive amount of fuel; they contribute greatly to local taxes, but they also pollute the rivers greatly and the machinery used in mining devastates the land. Moreover people from Shanglin have bought over 10,000 guns in Ghana, while at the same time they often get robbed.
From October 2012 to the beginning of this year, Ghana implemented an interdepartmental effort to deport many Chinese people. The Chinese government have participated in talks and negotiations regarding the matter. But in this tense and unsafe atmosphere, the workers from Shanglin have continued their gold mining non-stop.
A Special Eye For Gold
Tan Xinhua left China for Ghana for the first time in 2010 and for one year he worked at a gold mine run by a fellow Shanglinian. On November 2011 he started his own venture.
The Shanglin area has a tradition of gold mining. In the 90s there was a gold rush in Shanglin that brought peasants from all over China to Shanglin to mine gold.
Recalling that time Tan Xinhua explained, “The people from Shanglin, although small, have a strong group mentality, and a willingness to struggle against difficulties, that even makes the big and tall people from the north (of China) scared. At that time, some North-easterners got involved in violent incident at a gold mine with some Shanglin people. The local police didn’t dare interfere, they had to bring in the Armed Police.”
Starting in 2005, one story quickly spread across the citizens of Shanglin and it started a rush to Ghana. In this story one Shanglin man brought his entire savings of 5,000,000 yuan ($806,000) to Ghana and three years later was able to turn that into 100 million yuan ($16 million).
In Ghana, Shanglin people are concentrated in small gold mines located in Kumasi, Obuasi, Dakui city, and Jiaokui city. “The people who can come here, almost always also bring their relatives or friends along with them.” says Tan Xinhua. These days, Mr. Tan has around 30 relatives, classmates and friends in Ghana. These people mostly come from three villages in Shanglin county; Mingliang, Dafeng, and Gangxian. In total, these villages have a population of 30,000-50,000.
Ghana has the nickname of “The Gold Coast”, and gold panning in the area has over 100 years of history. Recently about 985 tons of gold has been discovered in Ghana, which makes it about 3% of all the world’s gold resources. With this amount of gold, Ghana is behind South Africa as the Continent’s second largest gold supplier.
The earliest Chinese people to come look for gold in Ghana came from the city of Hei Longjiang. It was then in the late 90’s when the atmosphere changed, people from Shuzhou, Hunan started coming over but met little success. It was not until the people from Shanglin County came that Chinese people mined gold successfully. “Ghana-China’s mining cooperative secretary Su Zhenyu explains, Shanglin gold mining groups only mine nugget gold, to wash this type of gold one cannot leave water, because of the business of mining nugget gold is concentrated in Oder or Tano River banks.
Ghana’s Gold Coast has many large gold mines, the earliest being Newmont, Gold Fields, Anglogold and Ashanti that were run by British and American gold mining companies. This type of beach-side gold was not fitting to the large gold mine company’s machinery, and the local Ghanian people’s panning methods were inefficient and the output was small, working this way was no good.
Then in 2005, Shanglin people took their pumping skills and brought them in Ghana. This completely changed Ghana’s gold extracting structure. The way Shanglin people use the nugget pump is only something people from Shanglin County understand, and they do not transfer their knowledge to outsiders. Because of this China gold workers exist in their own circles. Here, there is a popular saying, “People who are not from Shanglin cannot run the machines.”
In Ghana, most of the Shanglin business people cooperate with the local tribal chief (landlord). In order to find a new place to mine and a place to live one must pay 20-30 thousand Ghanaian currency for an “entering the market fee”. Tan Xinhua bought 25 acres of land for 25,000 Cidi ($12,500), this amounts to about 80,000 yuan. If the land is used for growing crops, one just pays the average yield price for the year multiplied by 20.
The laws in Ghana regarding large mines and small mines are different: Mines that are less than 25 acres are suppose to be limited to local Ghanaian people to open, but Shanglin people have found a way around this law.
“All one needs to do is be on good terms with the local tribal chief and you can start working.” Tan Xinhua says. “Because all the land belongs to the tribal chief, thus the mining rights are also in his hands, we could say, this is the tribal chief’s mine, we just help him extract (the gold).”
To strengthen the alliance with the local landlords, Shanglin people and the landlords sign a contract. Often the landlord holds anywhere between a 10-12% stake in the mine. Then everyday after mining, the landlord comes by to take his share and leaves. There are also some other methods used, for example, every month the miners will give 10,000 Ghana currency to the landlord, this way the miners do not have to give the landlord mining rights.
How can one be sure if they land they bought has gold? The man with only a middle school education, Tan Xinhua explains that the Shanglin people already have deep experience in finding gold, we can look at the land formation, wash a small bit of land and “In one casual look, know if there is gold here.”
Tan Xinhua’s mine employees five of his home village’s people and two local Ghanians. The local people’s salary are all set in stone; 1 day / 12 Cidi ($6) and have an average monthly salary of 280-300 Cidi ($140-$150) 3x times salary of the average Ghanian. Many of the people who come from Shanglin are of the Zhuang minority group in China, and have cooperated with the local people for a long time, so much so that some of the local people can speak a little of the Zhuang people’s language.
This is in contrast to workers from Shanglin, who have a base salary of about 6000 yuan ($970) a month and on top of that they receive a commission of 2-3% on their findings. “In three years I have just been a laborer and have taken in about 300,000 yuan ($48,000) in income” says Tan Xinhua.
Ghanaian mining data shows that in 2011, the entire country of Ghana extracted 3.6 million ounces of gold, among this 30% came from small mines. Su Zhenyu estimates, Shanglin people control about 40% of all small gold mines in Ghana.
Because of this, Shanglin has become an important town. Many kinds of excavators, water guns and other machinery for excavating and sold and transported to Shanglin. It is there where the machines are equipped specifically for gold excavation and finally they are sent through Shenzhen ports to Ghana. This March has been the largest ever shipment from Shanglin to Ghana. This past March, Shanglin County has shipped over 100 cargo boxes full of equipment through Shenzhen’s Yantian port to Ghana.
The Soaring Gun Trade
With the development of Shanglin gold panners in Ghana getting rich, there has been a coinciding increase in the amount of armed robberies against them. Last March, one person from Shanglin was robbed by the gunpoint of an AK47, in the end he was shot 27 times.
“In 2011, us gold workers in Kumasi used our guns twice.” Shanglin gold worker Li Zengquan said. Both times they used them were in gun fights that happened during the day. All in all, two Chinese and two Ghanians were killed in the firefight.
“While living in a foreign place, the most important thing to consider is preserving your life, making money is secondary.” says Shanglin gold collector Hu Xiongshi. Mr Hu’s mining site often finds over 200 pieces of gold. “If a few dozen robbers come, holding a few dozen guns, of course we have no way of fighting back, if we can give them some gold and some money, and nobody is hurt, this is fine.”
As for reporting crimes to the authorities, Shanglin business people have no hope. “What’s the use? You really think they could solve the case?” Tan Xinhua remarked. If they report a crime, the police are more likely to come to the work site and extort them for money. Mr. Tan explained that before when the police would come they would give them a a little money and they’d leave, now they have to give hundreds of yuan.
In order to keep safe, the Shanglin gold panners in Ghana often have three to four project teams live together and when they go to sell their gold they will also do it as a group, with seven or eight body guards watching their backs. Many of the Shanglin gold panning teams have a few AK47’s on hand. Where as gold miners often carry handguns and a few hunting rifles. Often one can hear news broadcasted about a gun fight between Shanglin business people and local gangs. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 guns in the hands of Shanglin gold workers and Chinese business people. Going along with the increased demand the local price for a hunting rifle has risen from 1800 Cidi to 3000 Cidi or about 10,000 yuan ($1500).
In the Ghanaian forests there are many alligators, types of birds, tigers, and snakes. All of these animals the local people do not eat, but the people from Shanglin have guns and often upon enter the mountainous or lake areas they will go hunting. Everyday they eat ant-eater meat, alligator soup, tiger soup; eating this food shocks the local people.
Shanglin gold panners also face another enemy in Ghana, the prevalence of diseases. Ghana’s transmittable diseases are plenty and the mining areas are often in the deep forests, far away from the big city’s hospitals, if a person gets sick there is no chance to heal them, they will just become an exotic corpse.
Lately another major problem are visas. Shanglin People in Ghana almost all use travel or non-work visas, both coming from the third world country of Ghana. These visas are not sufficient to work in Ghana, and often Ghanaian immigration bureau will deport workers.
In the past, when the immigration bureau authorities would come, you would just give them a few coolers of spring water, and a few hundred of the local currency and they would leave.” Tan Xinhua complains,”Now they will lock you up, exhort you for bail money and then let you go, or even worse they will deport you.” And if the Shanglin people go and hide in the deep forest, the immigration bureau can take away the work sites’ machinery and equipment. With one machine being worth more than 1 million yuan ($161,000), that’s a terrible loss to take.
Kumasi Becomes “Shanglin World”
It is said that with high risk comes high rewards. “In Ghana, only about 50-60% of gold miners end up making money.” explains Hu Xiongshi.
Shanglin people’s investments into Ghanaian gold projects total at over 1000. If one would guess that each project is around 3 million yuan, that means Shanglin business people have invested over 3 billion yuan in Ghana. These gold mining places most often have two excavators that in one day can find between 200-300 grams of gold. If one is having a lucky day they can find over 1k, of course there are also those who fall into bad luck, where one day they only find 30-50 grams, even worse sometimes they end up with nothing.
If on an average day, in an average gold site miners find 300 grams of gold, and the international price of gold is 280 yuan a gram, that means in one day’s work they will make 100,000 yuan ($16,000), this of course does not factor in expenses. Although in one day a site can have tens of thousands of yuan in revenue, average yearly intake often does not amount to 10’s of millions of yuan.
Once Shanglin people extract their gold, they often sell it to people from Hunan, Zhejiang and Fujian, there are also some Indian and local buyers of the gold. The buyers bring the gold to the international market to sell, where the price is set in accordance with that day’s international gold prices. The end buyers earn the least amount of money from the transaction.
If it is people from Zhejiang or Fujian who buy for the international market, they rarely use local banks to remit their money, the majority of them transfer money by using their Chinese bank account to transfer money to a Shanglin person’s Chinese bank account.
A source from the Industrial and Commercial bank of Guangxi revealed that in May-June of 2011 Shanglin county financed over 1 billion yuan ($162.2 million) in foreign deposits, this grabbed national attention as Shanglin county’s 2012 fiscal reserves just surpassed 300 million yuan ($48.3 million).
To support the newly rich Shanglin people, cities like Kumasi are starting to resemble Chinese cities. In the city there are Chinese restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, hotels, and KTVs. Although the local Ghanian people do not eat Chinese vegetables, but some grow these vegetables in order to meet the new demand.
Tan Xinhua complains that most of the goods come from China and are the same products that you would find in any Chinese cities but the price is 3x that of in China. “Master Kang ramen noodles are 4 yuan ($.60) for on packet back home, but here they are 12 yuan ($2) each! Lettuce is also 20 yuan a jin (1.1 pounds / 1/2 kg)”
Even though the business people from Shanglin mostly use machinery and equipment from China, the major brands all have service stations in Ghana. “Parts for our machines are also 3x the price as back home, using Chinese products is a love-hate relationship”
Chinese doctors are also very welcome here, as here you can make over 20,000 yuan ($3225) a month, some make even more.
Other service enterprises have also came to the area. “There is a boss from Fujian who started a large restaurant here, he just got over 100 servers from China to come with him.” says Tan Xinhua, “Of course, the servers monthly salary are all a few times more than what they could get in China, if they weren’t, how could they get them to come here?”
In Ghana, the majority of people from Shanglin are male, some of them simply marry local women, and have mixed children together. There are even some Ghanaian wives who can speak fluently in the Zhuang people’s language. As their children get older some people get a headache trying to decide whether or not they want to go back to China for their children to receive an education.
Shanglin’s business people’s gold money has also made the local casino’s flourish. In Shanglin gold panners are concentrated in Dunkua city. Some professional casinos have set up gambling games for the gold workers. It is said that at least 20% of panners income enters into the casinos, some people have even lost their entire family fortune.
Tan Xinhua does not go to the casinos. He hopes that in three years time he can accumulate at least 10 million yuan ($1.6 million). With that money he could give his parents a big and safe place to spend their later years. At the same time he wishes to buy a nice house in Nanning for himself, where he can live with the beautiful wife he will find. Finally he hopes, “To open a tea house and sometimes talk to my customers about my experience panning for gold in Ghana.”
*From their own requests, Tan Xinhua and Hu Xiongshi are not the interviewees real names.
更多衣锦还乡的传奇也在上演：有人回乡一出手就送亲戚一块金砖 ；有人在香港转机回广西途中，用电话下单订购了南宁的别墅和法拉利跑车. 不下三位上林商人证实，这8年，他们的圈子中产生了6到8个身家上亿者。
加纳以岩金为主的大型金矿，早先被Newmont、Gold Fields、AngloGold Ashanti等英、美大矿公司圈走。只有河滩边的砂金，不适宜大型采金设备，而加纳本地人对砂金采用挖坑、搬料、淘金等人力方式，效率低、产量少，一直做不好。
- Get a daily email packed with the latest China-Africa news and analysis.
- Read exclusive insights on the key trends shaping China-Africa relations.
- Connect with leading professionals on the China- Africa Experts Network.