South Sudan won independence and vast oil reserves in 2011, when it split from civil war rival Sudan. As the unstable relationship with its northern neighbour jeopardises oil exports, however, the new nation hopes a new mining regulation will entice foreign companies to excavate its mineral treasures and protect its future wealth. East of the country sees thousands of citizens armed only with picks and pans for hunting gold. Family members are departing from their loved ones by traveling far distances in order to sift through the endless piles of terracotta rubble for gold. There are so many people that travel for this purpose; they are all over the bush, everyone looking for gold. This gold mine in Nanakanak, Eastern Equatoria state, is merely one of numerous spots across South Sudan’s east where a gold rush has hit. However, the golden era of finding nuggets is over for the people of South Sudan. Citizens now squint at their plastic basins for the tiniest fragment of gold, hoping machines will land soon to help their hunt.
When foreigners gave metal detectors to all the artisans on the mines last year, they produced more than double 5 kilograms of gold weekly. They were collecting on a weekly basis 12 kilograms of this gold. At the Ministry of Mines in Juba, the government suspended previous small-scale mining licenses while putting the finishing touches to a mining law aimed at drawing in giant investors – and giant money – to remove the gold, copper, iron ore and other metals believed to lie under the eastern region.
Coming out of the war, things were not well organized within the country. Issuing out the licenses was not well organised, so the government decided to end any exploration work until the law has been signed. Now the law has been signed and the state is working on now what they call regulations, which may not be clear to the country’s citizens. It is said that later this year, licenses will be issued. But until machines land to replace the picks and pans, individuals in this penniless and drought-stricken region are tasked with uncovering the minerals that in years to come could wean the new nation off its dependency on oil revenue.