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Against All Odds, Women Miners Strive For the Best

Several women have taken up artisanal mining in uMzingwane district as a source of livelihood. Image by New Gold Inc

Mining at Umzingwane has been largely a men’s job, but women are slowly making inroads to improve their livelihoods and boost scanty family incomes.
BY MELODY MPANDE | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FEB 20, 2023

UMZINGWANE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Clothed in a tattered overall, face dusted red from underground soil and a 14-pound hammer resting on her shoulder, a 36-year-old Ntombizodwa Mpande sets off for a short lunch break.
Mpande alongside her two female partners have been working since dawn in the 26 metre deep hand-dug gold shaft, tramping down and out, carrying sacks on their backs packed with gold ore.
Their conversation only revolves around estimates of how much they will make from their one load which still has to be taken to a mill about 10 km away.

“Notwithstanding the rudimentary methods used in artisanal mining, we still wield picks and shovels everyday alongside men in search of gold. I have a family to feed.”
Ntombizodwa Mpande, small-scale female miner

Mpande and her two partners religiously leave their homes each day when the first cock crows to join several other women who have taken up artisanal mining in Umzingwane, Matabeleland South.
Umzingwane district sits on the greenstone gold belt which hosts gold producing giants including eNtabeni ende and Eureka mines.
Mpande says artisanal mining has sustained her family for years.
From a good load, Mpande says they make up to 17grammes, which they then sell to local gold buyers at US$50 a gram.
“Transporting a load costs US$50, and truck loaders charge $10 for the same quantity. The millers charge US$5 per hour and a load usually takes up to 12 hours,” says Mpande.
“We normally share about US$200 per load which helps me to single-handedly feed, clothe and pay for my children's school fees.”

Her partner, Gertrude Moyo, 27, also sees small-scale mining as a source of livelihood.

Small-scale female artisanal miners say they make up to 17grammes, which they then sell to local gold buyers at US$50 a gram. Image by IISD

“I’m married, but my husband has been going through a bad patch, so I have been looking after the family for a while now,” Moyo says.
Before becoming a miner, Moyo says she perceived mining as male dominated.
But all those perceptions vanished the moment she became a miner herself, she adds.

“Women like myself used to think that mining is only for men, but we have found that there is nothing men can do that we cannot. So I challenge other women to come on board.”
Gertrude Moyo, another small-scale female miner

Sabelo Mhlanga, a 26-year-old third partner, says women can compete equally with their male counterparts in the mining sector.
“I have equipped myself with the skills and knowledge to work on the same level as men,” she explains.
“Women have demonstrated that they can work equally as hard and perform as well as their male counterparts,” says Alice Masawi, an advocate for women empowerment and rights in Matabeleland South.

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She urged the central government to come up with policies to encourage equal opportunities for both men and women in the mining sector.
“There's a need for the central government to extend to women training programmes that male artisanal miners receive,” says Masawi.
“If women were to be equally trained alongside men, many would succeed professionally in the mining sector.”

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