Mining in Africa is one of the major economic activities on the continent that have transformed communities and livelihoods.
Africa is a major producer of many key mineral commodities, with bountiful reserves of metals and minerals such as gold, diamond, cobalt, bauxite, iron ore, coal, and copper.
Those in the know will attest that the African continent has been famous for gold production since 1886, when prospectors found several gold-bearing reefs around present-day Johannesburg in South Africa.
Since then, geologists have found more deposits of gold and other precious minerals, across Africa, making it one of the most endowed continents in the world.
Almost every African country has at some point experienced the beauty of mineral discoveries at their doorsteps.
Who can forget the gripping discovery of diamonds in Zimbabwe in the Marange fields sometime in 2008, a monumental feat that gripped and stunned the whole world?
“Detroit Gold” mines in Democratic Republic of Congo is a classic example of how precious minerals have remained an integral part of the continent.
Even the discovery of quartz crystals in KwaZulu-Natal province, east of Johannesburg in neighbouring South Africa, last year, brought so much excitement and global media glare on Africa, with many thinking that huge diamond deposits were literally flowing in the rivers of the marginalised KwaHlathi community.
It would not have been surprising if the quartz had turned out to be real diamonds considering Africa’s legendary record of minerals discovery, year in year out.
As I pen my thoughts, Zimbabwe is currently revelling in the discovery of huge deposits of natural gas in the Muzarabani area, with Invictus Energy expected to commence drilling soon.
A snap survey within most regions in Africa, will reveal a bastion of activities where millions are busy burrowing in the land, to extract precious minerals.
Stories are abound of overnight fortunes that were realised following intermittent discoveries of gold, diamonds and other precious minerals, in what is now known as “the miracle of Africa,” in reference to huge mineral deposits that are discovered on the continent yearly.
Such robust mining activities have also seen countries resuscitating mining agreements that had become moribund to foist the extractive sector.
Early this week, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa signed a communiqué on the revitalisation of the Pan African Minerals Development Company, (PAMDC).
The company, originally set up to exploit mineral concessions held by Rhodesia Railways, had become moribund and was technically bankrupt and has lost through lack of action some of its mineral rights.
Essentially, the agreement is set to get the company back into action, to resume exploration of the mineral assets bequeathed to the three countries by the Rhodesia Railways for the benefit of the people.
Outside this communiqué, a lot more other mining activities are taking place in different regions, which is an affirmation that Africa’s mining sector is very robust and boasts of huge deposits of minerals.
Some of the resources being mined include oil, gas, diamonds and gold which have transformed lives in resource-rich developing countries, driving economic growth, creating jobs, whilst also reducing poverty.
Mega projects such as road construction, infrastructural development such as schools, hospitals, dams and rehabilitation of antiquated machinery can be done using money from mining activities.
With an avalanche of mining activities taking place across the continent, it has become imperative to look into the gender dynamics of the extractive sector, looking at the role women play and the benefits they are deriving from such a huge and progressive sector.
Despite its phenomenal growth over the years, the mining sector has remained largely exclusive to men, in terms of opportunities, ownership and even access to resources and benefits accrued.
When one talks of a Malian or Zimbabwean miner, the image that one conjures is that of a man. However, statistics on the ground show that one in four miners in Africa is a woman.
While it is not disputable that mining can be hazardous, the sector has remained incredibly masculine.
It is one sector where women face specific and disturbing barriers that men do not.
The few women that have managed to break the ceiling, get paid less and face discrimination, in laws and in cultural norms.
Those who work as artisanal miners say because of the dangers involved in the digging, they often rely on male colleagues to assist, eventually sharing the proceeds no matter how little these may be.
Generally, women who are into mining, particularly gold, say while the alliances they form with their male colleagues are neither equal nor fair, they regard them as essential.
Hundreds of women toil daily at big mines as mere workers for years, but hardly enjoy the proceeds of this highly lucrative sector, not only in Zimbabwe, but across most African countries.
Outside the trenches and mining compounds, the story is the same.
Even women’s participation at governance level is still skewed in favour of men, where even board appointments or powerful management positions have remained exclusively a preserve of men.
According to the Mining for Talent report by Women in Mining and PriceWaterhouse Coopers, globally, the mining industry has the lowest proportion of women on its boards of all industries, with women occupying only five percent of the board positions of the top 500 global listed mining companies.
Yet snap surveys on the ground done by the same organisation show that female board members are equally competent and measure up to the task, as shown by the boards they head across Africa.
The growth of the mining sector in Africa is a welcome move, which will only be holistic and truly inspirational once it starts to accord women the necessary and appropriate recognition on the role they place and the benefits due to them.
This is one sector which should create opportunities for women, while promoting their growth as workers, owners and stakeholders in this robust sector.
For women in particular, extractive industries can provide opportunities for a better life, including increased employment opportunities, access to revenues, and expanded investment in the local community.
Women-led businesses can flourish in the extractives supply chain, where they can provide protective clothing, mining consumables such as explosives, drill bits, drill stills, different forms of oil and even procuring heavy machinery.
Working with and investing in women also makes good business sense – for example, many companies are recruiting women to drive trucks and operate machinery, as they have often found women employees to have an impressive safety record and reduced maintenance of equipment.
Women have proven to be good managers, owners and consistent stakeholders, who are competent, diligent, and less corrupt and can make sound decisions and judgements
Although female inclusion could take long to be implemented across African countries – Zimbabwe included – South Africa seems to be doing well in uplifting women in the mining sector, judging by the numbers of activities and policies that reflect women’s involvement in mining.
Mining Talent reports that mining companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange have the best level of female board representation in the mining world, with 24 percent South African women sitting on the boards of the Top 100 global listed mining companies and 21 percent of South African women sitting on the boards of the Top 500 global mining companies.
Such good practices should be amplified and implemented among African countries and the private sector companies through the introduction of legislation and policies that encourage gender diversity.
Zimbabwe boasts of a litany of legislation that supports economic empowerment of women, sadly these have not translated into real figures, with those instructed to implement Government policies simply seating on the paperwork.
There is no reason why women should continue to be sidelined in economic sectors that matter, yet the Second Republic has made it clear that women and youths should be included in the economic matrix of this country.
With the miners’ conference kicking off today in Victoria Falls, it is hoped that stakeholders will have ample time to introspect on gender mainstreaming in the mining sector and how it can be bolstered for everyone’s benefit.