2 December 2010 by Chris Marais

Knights of the Shovel

My friend Dirk and I are on a Digger Safari to the Northern Cape village of Windsorton, where we are confronted with the results of extreme diamond fever.

The eastern Kalahari grasslands have been turned into a giant construction site, replete with scores of earth-movers crawling between mounds of upturned red ground. Men have literally moved the Earth to get at the little carbon crystals so that women far away could wear them for baubles. Go figure.

We continue, Dirk directing my driving.

“You can turn here. Whoa, maybe not. The road’s been dug up.”

In fact, the only really un-turned pieces of land in Windsorton are the local church and cemetery. Which apparently makes the job of grave-digger quite a sought-after one.

Later, we drive on to Dirk’s home town, Delportshoop. Once, it carried the rather more magical name of Moonlight Rush. We are headed for the local township, Rooikoppies, to see an old digger called James Riet.

At 86, James Riet is one of a rare breed of hand diggers. This afternoon, he is relaxing at home because his beloved jig-sieve is in for repairs. James tells us of working the red ground, going out to the fields of Schmidtsdrift in the deepest winter, breaking the ice on the barrel of water used to rinse the gravel. Despite the hard life, James looks twenty years younger. How?

“I only celebrate a little when I find a nice diamond,” he says.

James lives the clean life, but he also comes from a hardy gene pool. His father died at the indecently ripe old age of 103. He hopes to break the family record…

Category: Culture & History

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