Women demand more from mining companies

HARARE - Battles between mining companies, the municipalities that host them and affected local residents are now becoming bloody following the fatal shooting of gold panner Tafadzwa Lewani by Redwing Mine security guards in Penhalonga late last month.

Women, who bear the brunt of the impact of mining activities in the area, said there is need for government to force companies to develop areas from which they operate.

This comes as mining projects in Zimbabwe have caused untold suffering to mining communities as they are marred by massive displacements, limited compensation, and loss of livelihoods, food insecurity and catastrophic environmental degradation.

Women interviewed by the Daily News said before mining operations commence, policymakers have to think through and justify why mineral resource extraction is the right avenue to pursue.

Speaking at a Reflection and Capacity Building Workshop in Harare last week, a villager Tendai Mudyiwa, 53, said it was critical for government to come up with a framework which ensures that all licensed mining firms in the country are required to contribute towards natural resource protection and sustainable development.

“We should have a law that forces mining companies to have the welfare of villagers at heart.

“At the moment, companies’ only care about profits while neglecting developing the surrounding areas,” she said.

“What happened to Lewani is very unfortunate and this would have been avoided if the company was employing local people to take care of their families,” Mudyiwa added.

Mutoko villager Belinda Mutseyekwa said explosions, dust and the vibrations of heavy trucks to and from a stone-quarrying company mine have changed the face of her community.

“As the mining activities advance and occupy more land, some families find that their houses have cracks and are now on the edge of a precipice. There are armed security guards everywhere,” she said.

The mother of three noted that most people in her village faced chronic skin infections, hair loss and feared for the safety of their children living in houses which may collapse due to substantial cracks.

“We are harassed by miners and intimidated by the police, and we constantly feel depressed.  Life has become very difficult. Sometimes suicide becomes an option,” she said, adding that the local authorities have refused to give them an ear.

In Hwange, women are also up in arms against the giant coal miner, which has failed to pay the majority of its workers for the past three years.

“As women, we are now faced with the gigantic task of looking after our families as our husbands and sons are not getting anything from their company,” Evelyn Ndlovu said.

“We tried to demonstrate once against our men’s poor working conditions and lack of salaries but we were heavily battered by the police,” she added.

Centre for Natural Resources Governance director Farai Maguwu said there was need to reform the Mines and Minerals Act to allow mining communities to participate in the exploitation of their resources.

“The Act, in its current form, is the elephant in the room as all powers are invested in the Mines ministry’s permanent secretary who makes decisions for all areas across the country.

“This means decisions are made by people who are not affected by the mining activities,” he said.

Maguwu noted that his organisation was helping women — and other stakeholders — to fight for decentralisation of decision making.

Maguwu also laid the blame on government for failing to regularise mining activities of artisanal miners.

“By failing to put in place the necessary institutional and legal frameworks that promote the participation of women in artisanal small-scale mining, the lives and well-being of these women are being compromised. As a result of ignorance, lack of resources and skills, women are exposed to extremely dangerous and poor health environments,” he said.

Maguwu added that mine accidents taking place within the artisanal small-scale mining sector often go unreported, though approximately 20 percent of the Zimbabwean population is directly dependent on this dangerous activity.

“It is definitely clear that this sector needs regulation in order to foster transparency and accountability, protect the lives and well-being of the women participating in the sector as well as contribute towards sustainable development,” he said.

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