Tag: mining

Women dig into Zimbabwe’s male-dominated small-scale mining sector

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 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.

“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 US$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 single-handedly feed my twin daughters and can afford money for their primary education, clothes and other basic needs,” Madhoro said.

"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." - (Pic: Reuters)
“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.” – Eveline Musharu (Pic: Reuters)

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 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 and 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 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.

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 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 IRIN.

“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,” she said.

Capital 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 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.”

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.

Economics, politics and a rural Zimbabwean wedding

Two Saturdays ago, we set off from Bulawayo at 6.30am in a Land Rover Discovery for my cousin sister’s wedding. It was scheduled to start at 9am at Zvegona Church of Christ in rural Zvishavane, a town well known for asbestos mining but which has now been taken over by Mimosa, a lucrative platinum mining company.

Mimosa mine. (Pic: AFP)
Mimosa mine. (Pic: AFP)

We were waved through most police roadblocks by officers speaking mainly in Shona to stoic Ndebeles. I wondered why they did not harass us like they usually do. It could have been the small Zimbabwean flag associated with Zanu-PF that was hanging by the rearview mirror or possibly the type of car we were driving – the police wouldn’t want to offend Zanu-PF ‘officials’, would they? But we were not Zanu-PF officials and besides the odd driver or two sporting a cap with the ruling party’s insignia, there were no visible reminders of the recent presidential election.

We reached Zvegona at around 9.30am after getting lost several times.  Everyone we asked directions from was also going to the wedding; rural weddings are for the whole village. There was an impressive building next to the church. We were later told that this was where Mimosa was was setting up a clinic for the community as part of its fulfillment of Zimbabwe’s indigenisation laws.

The small church was adorned in purple and white satin fabric. The wedding cake was the usual fruit cake with plastic icing. The bride and the groom were just like any other bride and groom I have seen before, as were the bridesmaids who danced the same dance I have been seeing for over twenty years as they ushered in the bride. She entered to loud ululation from excited female friends and family.

Standing there in the crowded church, I wondered what distinguishes a rural wedding from a city wedding. The bridal party even went to the nearby dam for a photo shoot, just like bridal parties in Bulawayo go to Centenary Park to pose for photos. Do they go to the Harare gardens in Harare? There was a PA system, there were video cameras. Did the reed mats in place of carpets add a bit of ruralness to the function?

There was an excited aunty who threw rice grains at the bridal party and the crowd. I forgot to ask what the rice signified –  my initial thought that they could not afford the usual confetti and glitter was quickly rubbished by the apparent evidence of money throughout the wedding ceremony. Besides asbestos and  platinum, there seems to be a lot of gold in Zvishavane, which is mined ‘illegally’. Illegal gold mining creates a cash economy that is shocking to broke city dwellers like us: Our tiny wedding presents were embarrassing in the face of refrigerators, microwaves and cash that the people of Zvishavane tossed at the young couple. Cash ranging from US$10 to US$200 was put on the table in front of the newlyweds while we sat, dished out rice and big chunks of meat, and felt out of place.

There was no sign of the recent elections in Zvishavane, not even talk of it. It was us city guys who discussed Morgan Tsvangirai’s embarrassing defeat and Bulawayo’s rejection of Welshman Ncube in preference for the MDC leader. The rural folk danced and sang the day away, oblivious to what we city folk think is the ‘destruction’ of the Zimbabwean economy by our leader.

I wondered if this kind of life in Zvishavane was sustainable. Could it be translated into real wealth and perhaps lead to poverty alleviation? A few years ago I went to Chiadzwa, near the city of Mutare, where people were enjoying the same kind of liquidity I was seeing in Zvishavane. Now they are back to being destitute because diamond mining in Chiadzwa has been ‘formalised’. Gold panning in Zvishavane will also come to an end. And then what?

We left for the city at dusk. I remain in a confused state about the dynamics of the Zimbabwean economy and Zimbabwean politics.

Mgcini Nyoni is a poet, playwright and blogger based in Bulawayo. He blogs at nyonimgcini.blogspot.com and mgcininyoni.blogspot.com.Connect with him on Twitter.

In Ghana’s gold country, Chinese miners flee crackdown

When he saw the trucks full of police and soldiers rumbling across the muddy field where he mines gold, Emmanuel Quainn ran. But they weren’t coming for him.

They came for his Chinese counterparts, who had turned up about a year ago to dig into the earth around the central Ghana town of Dunkwa-on-Offin in search of gold.

The business was lucrative. It was also illegal.

“Most of the Chinese people went very far from here, because when they get them they’re going to be under arrest,” said Quainn, who quit his job installing satellite dishes for the more reliable pay of small-scale gold mining.

Ghana’s government last month sent a task force of soldiers, police and immigration officers into the country’s gold country to root out foreigners who have flooded mining districts in recent years.

A small-scale mining site once mined by Chinese miners in Dunkwa-on-Offin in the centre of Ghana. (AFP)
A small-scale mining site once mined by Chinese miners in Dunkwa-on-Offin in the centre of Ghana. (AFP)

In a series of raids this month, the task force arrested and repatriated 218 Chinese nationals, along with 57 others from west African countries, as well as a handful from Russia.

Over 200 other Chinese citizens voluntarily returned home under an agreement organised with the Chinese embassy.

But in interviews with AFP, some who witnessed the raids accused Ghana’s security forces of heavy-handedness and indiscriminate arrests.

Liu Long Fei, a restaurant worker at a hotel in Dunkwa-on-Offin who was arrested and spent over a week in custody, said soldiers carrying out a nighttime raid kicked in doors and arrested everyone who looked Chinese.

“It doesn’t matter if (the immigrants are) financial worker or other job, they just come here and their duty is to catch the Chinese,” he said in broken English.

The raids created an awkward situation for China, which has been investing heavily in African nations in its search for new markets as well as oil and other natural resources.

In Ghana, China has been awarded infrastructure projects and plans a $3-billion loan backed by Ghana’s oil production.

The west African nation is eager for Chinese money but says foreigner-backed mining operations are ruining its heartland.

“It’s not about targeting any particular nationality,” said Francis Palmdeti, a spokesperson for Ghana’s immigration authorities.

“The task is to ensure that the degradation that is going on, in terms of our environment and waterways, is halted.”

Called the Gold Coast during British colonial rule, mining remains a driving force in Ghana’s economy. The country of 25-million is the second-largest gold producer in Africa, producing 4.2-million ounces last year.

Along with Ghana’s vibrant cocoa industry and nascent oil production, gold production helped grow the economy by 7.9% last year.

Ghana’s laws allow for citizens to mine small-scale plots up to 25 acres, but ban foreigners from the practice, commonly known as “galamsey.”

Dunkwa-on-Offin has long been a mining town, said local official Peter Kofi Owusu-Ashia, but changes have occurred in recent years.

Ghanaians began foregoing the hand tools they had relied on in favour of excavators and other heavy equipment brought in by Chinese businessmen, he said.

It turned what was once small-scale artisanal mining into something much more destructive.

Many of the Chinese came from Shanglin county in China’s Guangxi province, which too has a tradition of gold mining.

By 2009, the people of Shanglin had heard there was money to be made in faraway Ghana, says Yang Jiao, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida in the United States who studies Chinese investment in Ghana.

The Chinese often worked with local brokers to assist their entry into the country and pay off local officials for land access, Jiao said.

“All these brokers and local elites, local chiefs … also have vested interests in this kind of illegal mining,” Yang said.

‘When they leave, we do it ourselves’ 
Isaac Abraham, a spokesperson for Ghana’s Minerals Commission, estimates there are over 1 000 licensed small-scale mines, though many small-scale miners simply forgo paperwork.

As the Ghanaian countryside became pockmarked from the pits dug by miners and rivers ran with brown sludge, pressure mounted on newly elected President John Dramani Mahama.

In early June, soldiers in Dunkwa-on-Offin descended on the Takyiwa Memorial Paradise Hotel, a hangout for the town’s Chinese population.

Liu said he was awakened late into the night by security forces pointing guns and torchlights at people in bed.

“They are saying ‘get up,’ ‘get up,’ so rudely,” Liu said. “I told them, ‘I’m legal, I’m managing here, why did you spoil my door?'”

Liu said the hotel was emptied out and anyone who looked Chinese was put on to buses and sent to immigration headquarters in Accra.

Security forces ignored those who tried to show visas and work permits, Liu said, and confiscated phones and money before throwing the arrested into packed jail cells.

Pan Yuan Hua, the manager of the hotel’s restaurant, showed an AFP journalist what he said was a photo from a phone smuggled inside the prison cell. It showed people sleeping on top of each other on the overcrowded cell’s floor.

Palmdeti, the immigration spokesperson, denied allegations of mistreatment.

“We haven’t brutalised or used [force] on anybody,” Palmdeti said.

Dunkwa-on-Offin’s Chinese miners are now mostly gone, but the excavators are still around, as is the know-how for finding gold in the deep, sun-scorched pits.

“We plan to continue mining. When they leave, we do it ourselves, because we have learned most of their techniques,” Quainn said. “So it will be easier for us.” – AFP