Mines of rape, fear
Female mine workers are seen as sex objects and second-class employees
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.