Mines of rape, fear

Fe­male mine work­ers are seen as sex ob­jects and sec­ond-class em­ploy­ees

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

They de­scend more than 1km into the earth’s crust ev­ery day and, for many fe­male mine work­ers, it’s a de­scent into hell. It’s not just the back­break­ing work. The sex­ual ha­rass­ment and rape that take place un­der­ground in a num­ber of the coun­try’s mines have many a fe­male mine worker con­stantly look­ing over her shoul­der.

City Press spoke to eight women work­ing in two plat­inum mines in the Rusten­burg area.

While they say they have many good male col­leagues who guard them and help them at work, there are oth­ers who re­gard them “as noth­ing more than sex ob­jects, or just fe­males who are way be­low men”.

Mine work­ers need to com­plete set tar­gets dur­ing their shifts and many women strug­gle to cope with the phys­i­cal de­mands of the tasks, lead­ing some men to de­mand sex in re­turn for pick­ing up the slack. If they com­plain, they risk be­ing deemed un­fit and given a lesser pay­ing job. Many pay with sex ei­ther un­der­ground, or at an ar­ranged place above ground.

One fe­male mine worker, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said: “There are sex­ual trans­ac­tions for many favours from males do­ing tasks on a woman’s be­half. Like su­per­vi­sors list­ing their names for bonuses they do not de­serve, and ap­point­ments and pro­mo­tions for women who do not qual­ify. Hon­estly, there are tough women who can han­dle some hard tasks that most of us are still strug­gling with, like fix­ing a snapped ca­ble, and this leads to sex­ual trans­ac­tions with male col­leagues.

“We do not do it be­cause we like it, and it feels de­grad­ing for any woman to go through that. When things like this hap­pen, men will of­ten say: ‘You guys wanted to work in a mine, which is men’s work. Now there you are, you can’t even han­dle the eas­i­est tasks.’”

Phumeza Mgengo, a mine worker and the women’s sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers, says: “Women are still seen as sex ob­jects in the min­ing in­dus­try, and they die in si­lence be­cause they want to keep their jobs and feed their de­pen­dants. Sex is rife in this in­dus­try and not all of it is con­sen­sual.”

Mgengo says min­ing com­pa­nies haven’t made things any eas­ier. “Noth­ing much is done to make it eas­ier for women in min­ing. Women who are raped, and who are vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, are silent be­cause they fear vic­tim­i­sa­tion if they speak out.”

Their work­ing day starts with a trip in a high­speed lift that shoots un­der­ground with an ear­split­ting hiss.

“Women en­dure hav­ing their pri­vate parts and bums groped in this lift,” Mgengo says.

Un­der­ground, fe­male mine work­ers must go alone to re­lieve them­selves in a “filthy bucket toi­let in a cor­ner some­where”.

“Hy­giene does not seem to be an is­sue and, at times, it takes for­ever for those re­spon­si­ble to empty the buck­ets and you can imag­ine the sight of an over­flow­ing bucket,” says Mgengo.

“Some women have opted to find cor­ners, turn off their lamps and go to the toi­let, but a male col­league may ap­pear and put you in the spot­light with your over­alls at your an­kles, naked.” The dan­ger per­sists above ground. One woman City Press spoke to nar­rowly es­caped be­ing raped in the change rooms at An­glo Amer­i­can Plat­inum ear­lier this year. An in­truder walked in and raped one of her col­leagues while they were locked in the fa­cil­ity. She es­caped the same fate by man­ag­ing to un­lock the door. A case of at­tempted rape has been laid with the Rusten­burg po­lice. “There is se­cu­rity, but only at the main ac­cess points. I am work­ing in a dif­fer­ent area now, but be­ing in the same en­vi­ron­ment, I still feel like an in­truder can walk in and do the same

DAN­GER thing again,” says the woman who es­caped.

“I have been taken to coun­selling, but be­yond that, no one re­ally cares if I am cop­ing or not – and re­ally I am not. I have not seen my col­league who was raped and I don’t know where she is.”

De­spite in­ci­dents like this, many fe­male mine work­ers choose to re­main silent.

“We dis­cuss these things among our­selves, but no one wants to go out there and speak out. I mean, who would do it know­ing that they may be­come vic­tims of con­struc­tive dis­missal?” says one fe­male worker.

“Every woman here knows of a col­league who was forced into hav­ing sex for a favour or, even those who are raped and are threat­ened, and told to shut up or risk los­ing their jobs or even be­ing killed. Th­ese things are ac­tu­ally more se­ri­ous than they seem,” says an­other.

Mgengo says they are still strug­gling to get min­ing com­pa­nies to de­sign spe­cial over­alls for fe­male mine work­ers.

“We wear the same over­alls de­signed for men and be­cause they were not made for us, they tend to ex­pose our bod­ies. In cases where women are raped, men will say ‘but they asked for it with their skimpy and ex­pos­ing over­alls’,” she says, adding that the union has been in talks with min­ing com­pa­nies about this, but there have been few re­sults.

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