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dig into Zimbabwe's male-dominated small-scale mining sector
October 29, 2013
View this article
on the IRIN News website
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.
who transport the ore charge them US$50 a ton, and casual labour
used for the loading demand $10 for the same quantity. The millers
charge a fifth of the gold obtained.
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
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 US$1,200 for the registration,
prospecting licences from local administrators and surveyor’s
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.
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.
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 NGO Women in Mining, which helps women start
mining ventures, told IRIN: "Women are breaking the 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
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 organization
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.
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 organization are miners.
ZWRDT director Sarudzai
Washaya said 35 of the members, all of whom had 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
realize 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
"We have realized
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,"
often out of reach
Accessing capital for
mining ventures remains one 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
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
She said, "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.
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