The plight of women in mining

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… as they try to irk a living

By Emmanuel Mhike

Mining is a very energy consuming industry for man and what more on women who spend most of their days under the heat of the sun trying to endure working in this sector so that their families can survive the harsh economic conditions in the country. The challenges that these women encounter are unbearable.

The challenges that women in mining face largely revolve around societal perspectives on gender equality, legal and policy restrictions. The lack of adequate support from the government is also another factor that should not be ignored. But with these challenges in place some women such as Tsitsi Matumba popularly known as the ‘stone blaster’ by her peers have managed to pull through and become role models in the society.

Matumba is one of the few women involved in the male dominated artisinal mining sector and operates in the gold rich areas of Zvishavane. She entered the mining sector in 2012 as an employee at Sabi Valley Gold Mine. But through hard work, dedication and commitment she has defied all odds and denied to be defined by societal perspectives surrounding women in the mining sector. She is now a registered miner who owns a gold claim located in the Sabi area. But some might ask why do women such as Matumba have to expose themselves to the risks that are presented in mining?

“I was driven into mining by the need to earn a living, after the passing on of my husband who was our bread winner. I realised it was not a very difficult profession as the society think. I even encouraged my young sisters to join and to this day we are all key members of the Women Miners Association.

“Our challenges as women in this sector include delaying issuance of licenses by the Ministry of Mines, being defrauded by peggers, stigmatisation and discrimination of women in the mining sector characterised by valgur language and sexual harassment as well. Also cultural issues, for example as women we are considered to bring bad lucky when during mensuration periods (kana vari kumazuva vakadzi vanopunjira makomba).

“Also as women miners we are greatly incapacitated, they is a lot of corruption and at the banks we are failing to acquire loans due to the demand for collateral and lack of mining equipment,” she said.

Matumba like other mothers cannot afford to let her family suffer because women are stereotyped when it comes to mining. Her family has so much hope in her, hoping that the mother has a solution for them in terms of avoiding hunger, going to school, getting clothes etc. Her family relies on her to bring food on the table. It is because of this that Matumba has to take that risk and feed her family. The Covid-19 pandemic that hit the country last year and forced lockdowns to be initiated, however, disrupted Matumba’s progress in her work

Matumba also stated that life during the covid-19 was unbearable as their mines were invaded by illegal gold panners while they were at home due to the lockdown restrictions.

“Due to the Covid-19 and lockdowns more women joined Artisinal mining especially the informal traders who were stuck when boarders were closed. Most of them were abused by Mine owners. Also our claims were invaded by machete gangs since we were not allowed to travel to sites. Most women miners struggled to get letters and because they were not listed as essential service providers, it became even more difficult. Women Miners Association closed offices and so was the Zimbabwe Miners Federation this became difficult to deal with issues that were happening in our mines,” she said.

Mining is an industry which has always been male-dominated, regardless of geographical location but through her strength, passion and resilience Matumba managed to achieve a lot that many men have failed. She managed to register her own claim, acquired mining blasting license through Shabani mine. She is also a holder of the fundamentals certificate of mining (ZSM). In addition to that she has managed to purchase a residential stand and her children are now learning at a private school in Zvishavane.

Women make up 10% of Zimbabwe’s 535,000 artisanal and small-scale miners, according to a report from the Pact Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based development nonprofit. And the obstacles they face in the industry are considerable. It is against this backdrop that Matumba encouraged women to venture into the mining sector and defy the stereotypes just like what she has done. She stated that women should register claims in their own names and show the world that women are equal and capable beings.

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