Zimbabwe: A local woman triumph in Zvishavane’s Mining Industry

Regina Pasipanodya

In Zvishavane, in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe, where the earth yields its hidden treasures, Namatirai Mpofu, a resilient woman of 36, has etched her name into the rugged landscape of the mining industry.

She forged this path five years ago when her husband’s untimely demise thrust her into the role of sole provider. Mpofu stood at the crossroads of grief and responsibility.

She stepped into the male-dominated world of mining, where the echoes of pickaxes and the glimmer of precious minerals reverberated through the hills.

Her mining work is the main source of income which gives her no option than to wrestle for her ground in a male-dominated profession.

Armed with little more than her resolve, Mpofu staked her claim—a piece of land that would yield not just wealth, but also empowerment. She defied the odds stacked against her, navigating the labyrinthine bureaucracy, the gender imbalance, and the scarcity of resources.

Despite all the hardships as a mother she had to persevere.  

 “There was a time when men would drive women out of the mining area claiming during our days as women we bring bad luck to the hustle, so men believe that we should not work during the days and come back when we have finished our menstruation period. To keep the peace, we comply.

“But I have realised that it is difficult for women to take a break for almost seven days a week because artisanal mining does not pay much we need to work almost every day so that by the end of the month we raise a significant amount that can sustain the family”, said Mpofu.

Geologically, Zimbabwe is among other African countries that culturally exclude women in mining due to some norms that restrict them from participating in economic activities during their menstrual days and breastfeeding whereby they are regarded as unclean.

Yet, with continuous declines in formal employment opportunities, the Midlands has been ranked second in the country’s unemployment rate after Matabeleland North according to Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) 2023 first quarter labour force survey report.

However, in recent years, there has been a growing number of women taking up jobs in sectors such as mining, actively working in the processing of raw materials, including crushing, grinding, sieving, and washing. For women like Mpofu they have taken up male jobs that are considered risky.

Mpofu’s journey to mining began when she lost her husband and had to take the responsibility of the children alone.

“When my husband was alive she would not allow me anywhere near a mine until he left me with kids that’s when I decided to venture into mining and learn what others were doing and I am doing well in this business.

“Through attending the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers advocacy workshops l am now a mining graduate and l am now active in the mining sector,” she said.

To address the gender disparities posed by tradition, Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers (ZELA) – a Civil Society Organisation formed in 2000 is working tirelessly to train and advocate for women to get into mining but through legal means of owning claims and mines.

ZELA Communications Officer Batanai Mutasa told this publication that they are incorporating legally registered female-oriented associations to assist women in owning mining claims.

“We have worked with over 200 women, for example, 135 women accessed mining claims through tributary agreements, 21 through registering single claims.

“Women are accessing finance institutions as groups, especially by working with Women’s Associations which we help to formalize and register, as such we have been working with legally registered associations such as Zimbabwe Association of Women in Mining Associations (ZAWIMA), African Women in Mining Empowerment Trust (AWOME), Women in Gemstones Association of Zimbabwe (WIGAZ), Insiza Women in Mining Association among others”, said Mutasa

Although women constitute 52% of Zimbabwe’s population, a report by Pact Institute in 2019 shows that the country’s women make up 10% of the 535 000 artisanal and small-scale miners which points out a gender gap in the mining sector.

In most cases, single mothers and widows are the ones mostly found in artisanal mining as they are family breadwinners thereby resisting and being exposed to all forms of stereotypes from their male counterparts.

Some of the popular words that brand women in mining are ‘hure and njapisi’ which both refer to them as prostitutes

Through numerous advocacy and campaigns, the mining industry is witnessing a surge of women participating

During a Gender and Extractives Symposium in 2021, ZELA launched a Decent Work for Women campaign to provide information and garner support from decision-makers and different stakeholders to prompt action that will promote decent work for women in mining.

Mutasa told this publication that under the Decent Work for Women campaign “we submitted a petition to Parliament to break barriers for women employed in the extractives sector”

“ZELA also has the #Diggingforequality campaign Through the Digging for Equality project which aims to improve security, gender equality, and women’s empowerment in the artisanal mining sectors, the organisation is supporting women working in the ASM sector to reduce the barriers that they face and support their efforts towards gender equality,” Mutasa said.

Another female artisanal miner who is also a single mother of three, Muchaneta Zhou (36) from Vivo area in Gwanda said her responsibility at home forces her to continue struggling although the environment is not conducive

“In most cases, people believe that minerals are more spiritual, so they wouldn’t like us to be in those areas, but we have to persist in the industry because this is the way to survive.

“Men themselves feel like we disturb them in mining but we cannot let them rule over our aspirations”, said Zhou.

Lungile Masuku, Gwanda Community Economic Justice Development Trust Coordinator appreciates the efforts to amplify the voices of women in which she said there is a positive response from men following numerous advocacy campaigns although others still have that traditional belief.

“Over the past years, mining was male-dominated, but through training and encouragement women are now viewing mining as a business where everyone is free to join. It’s the nature of the work that sometimes hinders women from joining mining, but Zimbabwe has seen more women miners coming on board.

“Some women are still afraid to go underground though, but I’m sure that with time and with passion women will go underground”, said Ms Masuku.

ZIMCODD Social and Economic Justice Ambassador, Siduduzile Masilela, acknowledged that women are not culturally welcomed in the mining sector, the amended Mines Bill that that is yet to be passed will further confine their participation in economic activities.

“Although women participated in the Mines and Mineral Amendment Bill, we still need the government to avail more mining claims for women and youths, and a quota should be reserved to cater for that,” said Masilela.

“Mining Affairs Board must be inclusive and women and youths must be part of the board”.

One of the most worrying provisions in the bill is the condition to prove that the applicant can invest at least US $100 million to get a mining lease.

Ms Masuku raised concerns about ambiguity on how artisanal and small-scale miners will benefit through mining.

“During public consultations, people were advocating for equal representation in the proposed Mining Board and also a meaningful community development through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but it’s not mandatory thus there is a need for a law that compels it to be mandatory as this will address communities’ disgruntlement, especially women and girls who are most of the times hard hit by mining activities without any benefits in return.

“It’s not going to be easy for women to extract Lithium as it will be declared a strategic mineral which requires US$ 100million for one to have a mining permit it won’t be easy for women to raise such looking as many factors that hinder women when applying for loans from financial institutions,” she said.

A rudimentary knowledge can tell that several women cannot afford the amount stated in the bill if one considers their profits and how they ventured into the mining sector.

As for Mpofu, she started as an illegal miner (mukorokoza) where she used to pick chrome from dumped residues which they refer to as the ‘recoveries’ until she raised money and started booking hours from a female miner who had a claim, but she got disappointed about the charges which she had to share equally with owner of the miner.

On a single week, her claim can give her a maximum of US $ 1,000. Therefore the amended Mines bill will automatically disqualify several women from owning mining if the 10th Parliament passes it to be an Act.

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