When Discovery’s “Jungle Gold” airs its behind the scenes special and two-hour season finale starting at 8 p.m. ET Friday (Sept. 6), fans will learn that mining gold is just as dangerous today as it was a century or so ago — and it’s not just about the physical risks of the mining itself.
As reported in South African media back in May, the Ghanaian government went on the hunt for Utah-based miners Scott Lomu and George Wright, because of alleged “severe brutalities” seen in the show, and because, in terms of small-scale mining, “non-Ghanaians are illegal.”
In addition, Alhaji Isunah Fuseini, Ghana’s minister for lands and natural resources, said on a Ghana radio show, that “Jungle Gold” portrays Ghana “as a jungle, where no laws exist and where people can come and act with impunity, and that we don’t regulate mining in the country.”
As a result of the dispute — in which the miners and the TV production crew were targeted by armed militia — “Jungle Gold” hit the road back to the States.
Wright and Lomu have heard this criticism before. There are at least two online petitions at change.org protesting the mining operation.
Over lunch in Los Angeles with Zap2it, the miners refute the notion that locals or the environment are being exploited.
“When it comes to being in the jungle, people think, ‘You guys are in the jungle; you’re tearing down virgin rainforest.’ We don’t,” Lomu says. “The rainforest was torn down 50 to 100 years ago, so that they can farm. When we go, one of the biggest expenses we have is paying the farmer who is farming cocoa, because almost every place we have dug a hole was a cocoa farm.”
“It’s their number-one export,” Wright says.
“It’s where they make their money,” says Lomu. “The prices have gone up, so we pay [the equivalent of] $4,500 an acre; $4,500 for a farmer, in the middle of the bush, is retirement money. So when we go there, and we’re looking for places to mine, every single person begs and begs for us to mine on their land.
“So, we’ll cut a deal with them, go in, pay them the money, usually one acre at a time, because it’s so expensive. We will tear down the cocoa plantation, with the expectation that, when we’re done, we reclaim the land and replant the cocoa.
“What we pay them for the cocoa plantation, they can live off forever, and their kids, and their kids’ kids. Then they get their plantation back.”
“The average wage is $539 a month,” Wright adds. “You get $4,500, for a farmer that owns several acres, you give it to him for one acre, and there’s many more acres that are coming. Plus, you’re splitting gold [revenue].”
“When you go there,” says Lomu, “the chief is there, the eldest son is there. It’s done very carefully and professionally, for how it’s done in West Africa. No one’s taking advantage of anyone; quite the opposite has happened, because we’re viewed as these gullible white guys who come into West Africa with no idea of how things are done.
“Our presence there is welcomed, but more importantly, it’s needed. The guy doesn’t have an excavator. We have an excavator. It’s more gold than he’ll ever get with a shovel, digging down 20 feet.”
“Which is what these guys have done,” says Wright, “to this point, period. People say, ‘Leave it alone for the future generations.’ Well, this is the future generation. They haven’t been able to have it for 50, 100 years. Now they’re saying, ‘This is our land and now, more than ever, we’d like to get it.'”
“Because the gold price is high,” adds Lomu. “They say, ‘I can make more splitting it with these guys.'”
Obviously, some people in Ghana disagreed with their assessment, and viewers can judge for themselves when they see the episode.
Before the finale, Discovery is airing a behind-the-scenes special called “Jungle Gold Wild Ride,” which shows that a lot of the danger is behind the camera. Here’s an exclusive clip: