By Nobuhle T Mabhikwa -Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association
Small-scale mining has become an important source of livelihood for Zimbabwe’s poor and other vulnerable populations. Some rural populations in the country depend on mining as a primary source of income or as a critical supplement to meagre farming revenues. Women have not been left behind, several have ventured into this male dominated field.
Women in Zimbabwe who against all odds have decided to venture into mining face a number of challenges and barriers some of which are not only peculiar to them but are common in every start-up venture. These challenges are not limited to lack of financial capital and high costs associated with small scale mining activities; lack of adequate equipment, unscrupulous stamp mill owners, violence, claim dispute and the lack of technical knowledge of mining, lack of administrative skills including in the legal and administrative aspects.
A new challenge has however emerged not only at local level but at global level. The challenge does not discriminate based on gender, race and social status and its not only threatening the mining sector but the global economy at large. The deadly COVID-19 is here furiously devouring and its effect is being felt near and beyond. The entire world is fighting the same battle. The COVID-19 knows no borders. Zimbabwe has not been spared either.
The Mthandazo women with financial support from the European Partnership for Responsible Minerals (EPRM) have been working with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) since 2019 .They have been able to set up systems that allow them to trace the gold that is produced from their gold processing centre. It must be noted that,they have a very strong safety and health culture. In addition they are one tight knit family unit that has women of all ages and from all walks of life brought together by the need to create better lives and legacies for the families they support. In 2019 the women were able to put in place a due diligence gold sourcing policy in line with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines that will enable them to produce clean gold. However, towards the end of 2019 there was a wave of machete violence and the women were not spared. Between December 2019 and January 2020 one life was lost while eight were injured with property worth thousands of dollars destroyed and some of the valuables stolen . The violence left the Mthandazo women scared, emotionally and mentally unstable.The ravages of the machete wielding gangs hit them very hard.
“I cannot stand going to my claim as it brings back memories of the night the machete gangs attacked my workers”, said Sithembile Ndlovu, Mthandazo Women Miners’ leader. “We do not feel safe anymore, with the spate of violence in the sectormining is no longer a safe space for women anymore” chipped in Ms Mandoza.
The women had to scale down operations as they tried to recover from the ordeal while in some areas they downed their tools. As a safety measure the women hired armed security. Some say that have sacrificed too much to back down now and in no time were back in full operation. They remain resolute and say, for them despite this traumatic ordeal life goes on because they still have to cater for their families .
Almost two months later just when the women had just recovered from the violence the, 1st COVID-19 case was reported in Zimbabwe. Five days later the COVID-19 one person succumbed to the deadly pandemic life . As of 31 March, 1330 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed with four lives having been claimed in neighbouring South Africa, which is geographically close to Gwanda. South Africa has become a second home for several Gwanda youths who have fled the country to seek economic refuge. As of 31 March 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe stands at eight with one fatality. According to the World Health Organisation, globally 697 224 cases have been confirmed and 33 257 fatalities recorded.
On 27 March 2020, the President of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that the country would, with effect from 30 March 2020, impose a national lockdown to help curb the spread of coronavirus. He made it clear that those providing essential services would be exempted. The Minister of Mines and Mining Development, Honourable Winston Chitando in his statement highlighted that miners can get a waiver. Any miner therefore willing to continue with operations during the twenty-one days lockdown is supposed to seek approval from Zimbabwe Miners Federation. Before and upon approval they are encouraged to practice safety including outlining the steps they will undertake to ensure that they comply in the fight against COVID-19 and the guidelines given by Government. This has resulted in the women miners sending most of their workers back home, leaving one or two security personnel to mind their gold processing centre.As a result of the COVID-19, and in response to the Government of Zimbabwe’s national lockdown directive, Mthandazo women have decided to implement the following:
- The Mthandazo Gold processing centre has scaled down leaving behind a few personnel for security purposes;
- Some members of the Mthandazo women applied for exemption and have continued with their mining activities and are exercising caution; and
- Miners neighbouring the Mthandazo women claims who have taken head of the said lockdown allege to have lost machinery to criminals taking advantage of the women’s absence from the claims.
The Mthandazo women gold processing centre is currently being used by the fifty women who are part of the association. Other miners in the area have grown to rely on the processing centre to have their gold processed at a fee. The women have been able to integrate themselves with the community they live and work in through the many claims collectively owned by the group members. They have also been able to create job opportunities for the locals. The gold processing center currently employ eight people inclusive of a manager, fitter , feeders and lasher. Most of which are men, breadwinners for their families and as a result of the shut down had to go back home.
Zimbabwe has most of its population being consumers ,living from hand to mouth and cannot afford to save for such rainy days. The COVID-19 has therefore had a serious impact on the operations of the Mthandazo women’s mining business, but also a devastating effect on the government of Zimbabwe and its citizenry as a whole; the full effects of which are still to be felt, both locally, regionally and globally.
Small scale miners are known to contribute approximately 59% of the gold deliveries. So far more than US200 million has been lost in revenue in the Zimbabwean mining industry due to COVID-19; and the production of the 2020 second quarter is expected to decline further. The mining sector has strong linkages with the regional and global markets for the supply of mineral commodities and products as well for the sourcing of inputs, equipment and machinery.
The effects of the virus are devastating and to all Zimbabweans the best we can do for now is to heed the lockdown call by staying home, staying safe and preventing the spread of the disease. We remain hopeful that this pandemic too shall pass and everything will go back to normalcy. It may take time but surely there is light at the end of the dark tunnel.
HOPE is the best we have at such a time!!!!
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
― Tom Bodet-