By Dumisani Nyoni
Bulawayo, June 09, 2016 – The face of Nomusa Dube, 40, is dusted red with soil as she and her five female colleagues take a brief lunch break.
They have been working since dawn on their gold claim in Esigodini, 49 kilometres from Bulawayo along the Bulawayo-Beitbridge road.
She joined the male-dominated industry in 2014 after her husband succumbed to cancer in 2013.
“By that time, I saw my world crumbling as I had nowhere to turn to. Two of my children were at high school and three at primary level. Therefore, I was supposed to pay for their school fees, clothe and feed them,” Dube said, checking the sun’s position – a traditional old practice of estimating time – ready to go back to work.
She tried vending in Bulawayo, but with little success.
Low returns, and constant raids from municipality police confiscating their wares sucked her strength.
In 2013, government invited women to take up mining to supplement their living and Dube was one of the first to respond.
She joined other ‘brave’ women to form an association called United Women Miners Association (UWMA).
The association now boasts of more than 600 members and has over 80 gold claims.
Their first mining project was in Umzingwane district in Matabeleland South.
“Since that was our first project, we didn’t realise much due to lack of experience.
However, through government and other stakeholders’ support, we managed to pull through,” she said.
Since then, Dube has never looked back.
“With mining now, I can safely say that I am living. I am able to pay school fees for my children and feed them,” she said.
A gram of gold costs $37,90 at Fidelity Printers and Refiners – the country’s sole legal gold purchaser – meaning a kilogramme fetches $37,900.
But on the informal market, a gram of gold would fetch about $60.
In a good month, each member takes home more than $500 from the minerals they sell at Fidelity.
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.
The association’s secretary general, Mpumelelo Musekiwa said gone were the days where women were regarded as house wives.
“Women should come up and join mining industry. This is not the time to sit at home doing nothing. It’s the time to wake up and get counted. Women should work for their families, nation and for the betterment of the economy. They should rub shoulders with people that matter for their benefit,” Musekiwa said.
She said they were grateful to the government for supporting them as they were now able to fend for their families.
Musekiwa vowed that as an association, they will never dump the industry despite its many challenges.
“Some of our members are also into chrome and we are thankful of the government’s support. We value our 100 percent empowerment. Whatever challenges we are facing, we are not changing stance. We remain solid,” she said.
In 2014, the association received an injection of $20 000 from the Women, Gender and Community Development ministry to acquire mining equipment.
Musekiwa said they want to empower women from the grassroots level so that they benefit from the country’s natural resources and “to also contribute to economic development” under the ZimAsset agenda, the country’s economic blueprint.
UWMA works with various stakeholders in the mining industry who help the association with technical training and advocacy programmes.
Its members have interests in gold, chrome, coal and diamond mining among other activities.
However, Musekiwa fears that the number of women venturing into mining was still low due to a number of challenges.
She said to encourage broader participation, there was need to craft policies relevant to women in mining, which include ensuring employment equity, health policies and sexual harassment policies.
The mining sector is laden with legal instruments that discourage artisanal mining.
One of those laws includes the Mines and Mineral Act and Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act.
Musekiwa lamented that the price of the precious mineral was low and hence the government should revise it.
Firebrand politician and Bulawayo East MP, Thabitha Khumalo, who once tried mining for a month but left it due to unfavourable working conditions, said the mining industry was capital intensive and this was the reason many women were not joining it.
“I once tried mining but left it. It needs a lot of capital and also to access machinery from the Ministry of Mines it’s very hard,” she said.
Khumalo said to hire a compressor, pump, and truck costs $100, $50 and $40 a day, respectively.
“Sometimes you do that but fail to get a cent and you will be left with a huge debt,” she said.
She said also tax charged by councils was too high as they were charging about $6 000.
“Government should recognise the role played by small scale miners and support them with rightful equipments,” she said.
Mining is one of the fastest growing sectors in Zimbabwe’s economy and is viewed as a potential tool to empower communities but government is failing to support it.
“At first we had no experience but now we are genius. As such, we are aiming to deliver more gold per annum at Fidelity Printers,” Dube said.