Women Dig Into Zim­babwe’s Male-dom­i­nated Min­ing Sec­tor

Solitaire - - BULLETIN - By IRIN | www.irin­news.org

The face of Ly­dia Mad­horo, 25, is dusted red from soil as she and her three fe­male col­leagues take a brief lunch break. They have been work­ing since dawn on their gold mine in Zim­babwe’s Mashona­land Cen­tral Prov­ince.

Their hand-dug shaft has reached about 10m in depth, and their con­ver­sa­tion re­volves around es­ti­mates of how much they will make from a pile of gold-bear­ing ex­ca­vated rocks. The ore still has to be taken to a miller about 15km away to be crushed, af­ter which it will be mixed with wa­ter and mer­cury to sep­a­rate out the gold.

Truck op­er­a­tors who trans­port the ore charge them $50 a tonne, and ca­sual labour used for the load­ing de­mand $10 for the same quan­tity. The millers charge a fifth of the gold ob­tained.

“We are at work al­most ev­ery day of the week, go­ing un­der­ground for the ore. This is ex­tremely hard work that has been as­so­ci­ated with men for a long time, but we are now used to it. We have to do it be­cause, as sin­gle moth­ers, we must feed our fam­i­lies,” Mad­horo told IRIN.

The four women formed a syn­di­cate in 2011 to ac­quire their 0.8-hectare claim near Ma­zowe, about 50km north­east of the cap­i­tal, Harare. Mad­horo and her part­ners are cer­ti­fied gold min­ers and sell­ers from the min­ing town of Bin­dura, about 40km away. They paid about $1,200 for the reg­is­tra­tion, prospect­ing li­cences from lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tors and sur­veyor’s fees.

In a good month, they make as much as $2,500 from the min­eral, which they sell to the gov­ern­ment-owned Fidelity Prin­ters at $50 a gram. The money is di­vided among the part­ners in equal shares af­ter pay­ing the millers’ fees and trans­port costs; the pro­ceeds have so far been used to build ba­sic hous­ing.

“Even though we are not yet mak­ing that much money, the good thing is that we have stood up as women to fend for our­selves. We are ac­tu­ally do­ing bet­ter than some men, and I am proud of the fact that I sin­gle­hand­edly feed my twin daugh­ters and can af­ford money for their pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, clothes and other ba­sic needs,” Mad­horo said.

Break­ing bar­ri­ers

Zim­babwe’s eco­nomic malaise, now more than a decade old, is see­ing women take on work that has tra­di­tion­ally been deemed the do­main of men. Mad­horo and her col­leagues’ min­ing en­ter­prise is far from unique, she says. She is aware of nu­mer­ous women-owned and op­er­ated min­ing syn­di­cates in the prov­ince, in dis­tricts like Bin­dura, Shamva and Madziwa.

Eve­line Musharu, pres­i­dent of the 50,000-strong non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion Women in Min­ing, which helps women start min­ing ven­tures, told

IRIN: “Women are break­ing bar­ri­ers by ven­tur­ing into min­ing, an in­dus­try that is dom­i­nated by men. There are tan­gi­ble gains for women who have joined the sec­tor as small-scale min­ers, es­pe­cially in gold and chrome, as they can af­ford house­hold nutritiona­l needs, pay school and med­i­cal fees, and even af­ford some mod­est lux­u­ries.”

The na­tional NGO was es­tab­lished in 2003, and its mem­bers are mainly drawn from the ranks of the ru­ral poor, the dis­abled, wid­ows, sin­gle moth­ers and those liv­ing with HIV/AIDS. Musharu said women are turn­ing to min­ing as an eco­nomic life­line be­cause, given the va­garies of the cli­mate, sub­sis­tence farm­ing is no longer a guar­an­tee of putting food on the ta­ble.

Mad­horo’s route to min­ing be­gan when she be­came preg­nant by a teacher, dropped out of school and gave birth to twins. Her par­ents dis­owned her, and she went to live with her grand­mother. When her chil­dren were six months old, she be­came an il­le­gal miner. One night, af­ter dig­ging for gold along the Ma­zowe River, she was nearly raped by a group of other il­le­gal min­ers; af­ter that, she tried to make a liv­ing as a hawker. Then she learned about Women in Min­ing.

When she ap­proached the NGO for ad­vice on how to en­ter the min­ing sec­tor, the or­gan­i­sa­tion sug­gested she form a women’s syn­di­cate be­fore ap­ply­ing for a prospect­ing li­cence. She chose her three part­ners be­cause they were al­ready friends and stayed in the same sub­urb in Bin­dura.

Boost­ing in­comes

The six-year-old Zim­babwe Women Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Trust (ZWRDT), which has more than 500 mem­bers and op­er­ates mainly in the Mid­lands and Mata­bele­land prov­inces, also helps women get a foothold in the min­ing sec­tor. More than 100 mem­bers of the or­gan­i­sa­tion are min­ers.

ZWRDT di­rec­tor Sarudzai Washaya said 35 of the mem­bers, all of whom had

Be­cause our so­ci­ety is dom­i­nated by men, it is dif­fi­cult for women to pro­duce col­lat­eral when ap­proach­ing banks. They don’t have ti­tle deeds to land, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. If well sup­ported, women can use their in­volve­ment in min­ing to fight the many liveli­hood vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties they face.”

pre­vi­ously worked as il­le­gal min­ers, had been coached to en­ter the sec­tor legally, and have seen their in­comes grow as a re­sult. Ac­cord­ing to Washaya, min­ing legally has sev­eral ad­van­tages, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing the risk of be­ing ar­rested and hav­ing one’s min­er­als con­fis­cated. Le­gal min­ers are also guar­an­teed of a for­mal mar­ket where they are safe from thieves.

“There is a lot of keen­ness on the part of ru­ral women to get into min­ing as they re­alise the op­por­tu­ni­ties that the sec­tor of­fers. Chiefs and dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tors help our mem­bers iden­tify and ob­tain min­ing claims, and ZWRDT fa­cil­i­tates the ac­qui­si­tion of prospect­ing li­cences, and prospec­tive min­ers pay a join­ing fee of $20,” Washaya told IRIN.

“We have re­alised that it is im­por­tant to build con­fi­dence in women, [show­ing them] that they can per­form just as well as, if not bet­ter than, the men who dom­i­nate the min­ing sec­tor. In some cases, the women are now em­ploy­ing men, and a few have even man­aged to buy lux­ury cars,” she said.

Cap­i­tal of­ten out of reach

Ac­cess­ing cap­i­tal for min­ing ven­tures re­mains one of the big­gest ob­sta­cles for women. Min­ing equip­ment, such as com­pres­sors for milling ore and pumps to drain wa­ter from mine shafts, are gen­er­ally un­af­ford­able, and women min­ers have to re­sort to rent­ing equip­ment at high costs, erod­ing their profit mar­gins.

Vir­ginia Muwanigwa of the Women’s Coali­tion in Zim­babwe, a na­tional NGO for the ad­vance­ment of women, told

IRIN: “Be­cause our so­ci­ety is dom­i­nated by men, it is dif­fi­cult for women to pro­duce col­lat­eral when ap­proach­ing banks. They don’t have ti­tle deeds to land, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. If well sup­ported, women can use their in­volve­ment in min­ing to fight the many liveli­hood vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties they face. Women min­ers can ben­e­fit a lot from a re­volv­ing fund that the gov­ern­ment and donors can help es­tab­lish and from which they can bor­row, as banks are un­will­ing to lend them money.”

The lack of equip­ment makes min­ing an even more ar­du­ous oc­cu­pa­tion. “Some of the women have given up on min­ing be­cause of its high de­mands and gone back to face poverty in the vil­lages. There is need for the gov­ern­ment to give us sup­port be­cause, cur­rently, we are strug­gling to sus­tain our­selves in min­ing,” Washaya said. [This item comes to you via IRIN, the hu­man­i­tar­ian news and anal­y­sis ser­vice of the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs. The opin­ions ex­pressed do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of the United Na­tions or its mem­ber states.]

Min­ing legally has sev­eral ad­van­tages, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing the risk of be­ing ar­rested and hav­ing one’s min­er­als con­fis­cated.

Women pro­vide ex­ten­sive labour at the gold mine work­ings, where all ex­ca­va­tions are done by hand.

Zimbabwean women are en­ter­ing the small-scale min­ing sec­tor, which was once the pre­serve of men.

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