social commentary:with Moses Mugugunyeki
Under the cover of darkness and in disregard of Covid-19 lockdown regulations, more than 200 illegal gold panners, mostly men, descended on a mine, owned by Diana Masendeke.
Masendeke is a 65-year-old widow, who operates a mine in the gold-rich area of Makaha in Mudzi, Mashonaland East province.
Despite having secured a prospecting mining licence alongside her late husband, Masendeke, popularly known in the area as Mbuya Munyoro, has known no peace.
She has been tormented left, right and centre by her husband’s relatives and other influential members of the community, including traditional leaders and politicians, who want a piece of the cake from the 70-hectare gold claim.
Over the years, she has refused to give in to their demands, arguing that she, just like any citizen, was entitled to the piece of land and to prospect for minerals as provided for by the constitution.
“I have not known peace at this mine since the death of my husband several years ago,” Gogo Munyoro said.
She recounted one incident where a group of people claiming to have been sent by a politician descended on the mine at night.
“It was a bad experience for me and my family. I saw people going up there at night not knowing that they had invaded my claim,” she said.
“About 230 men were transported in mishikashika [pirate taxis] to my mining site without my consent. They passed through my gate and even threatened to kill me. It was scary.”
She stood her ground and sought police assistance before the crowd was dispersed.
Surprisingly, the politician went on to drag Gogo Munyoro to court claiming to be the rightful owner of the mine.
Gogo Munyoro is not alone in this predicament as a myriad of women have been pushed out of mining by those who are politically-connected or have financial muscle.
According to a report from the Pact Institute, a Washington, DC-based organisation, women make up 10% of Zimbabwe’s 535 000 artisanal and small-scale miners. And the obstacles they face in the industry are considerable.
Although most African countries have made strides in embracing gender equality on land, housing and property rights, there is dearth of legal provisions that protect women’s fundamental liberties.
In 2003, for instance, the African Union adopted the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), focusing on human, social, economic, and political rights.
The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) affirmed that women’s right to inheritance and ownership of land and property should be recognised, while the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) provides a universal basis for promoting women’s rights as human rights, referring to women’s rights to equal treatment in land and agrarian reform processes.
Zimbabwe, just like many other African countries, has gone a step further by taking measures such as the explicit recognition of women’s equal rights through the promotion of joint ownership and registration of land as well as crafting laws on inheritance and property rights for widows and children.
However, despite these pieces of legislation and policies, women in Zimbabwe have been pushed out of mining due to a plethora of challenges, chief being gender imbalances with regard to customary land rights.
Ratidzo Kusiyauripo said she was forced out of her mine claim after failing to meet the exorbitantly high costs associated with formalisation of the chrome mining claim in Mutororashanga, Mashonaland West province.
“I had to abandon prospecting for chrome at the mine because of the high cost of registration coupled with the lack of transparency in the whole process,” Kusiyauripo said.
“Some officials were soliciting for bribes while others wanted joint registration. Politicians on the other hand also wanted some share from the claim. I ended up quitting.”
A Zvishavane miner, Sophia Takuva, said women miners suffer from gender-based violence while the process of registration lacks transparency, which leaves women at a higher risk of paying for bribes.
“The challenges that we face on land rights is the process of getting a mining claim so most women miners are working according to the agreements because they don’t have mining claims and also they don’t have money to pay for their own mining claims because it costs about US$650 for the whole process,” Takuva said.
“Both women and men can do their mining together, but only male names are written on legal documents. When women need a loan to support their business, it is not easy for them.
“Another challenge is that there is no office at the district level, so it becomes expensive for women to travel and get licences for mining. But we are continuing to advocate for women so that they get licensed and registered as legal miners.”
Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch Dewa Mavhinga said while the constitution and other laws formally recognise equality between men and women, the reality for women in mining was far from the enjoyment of equal rights of equal access to land.
“The biggest challenge is the extreme violence that characterises particularly the gold mining sector and the lack of protection and security, which results in many women being displaced, dispossessed and deprived of their land rights and mining claims,” Mavhinga said.
“The environment is just not conducive for women to assert and enjoy their rights and the situation is worsened by patriarchal interpretations of customary land rights, which tend to generally exclude women.
“Perhaps women face the biggest challenges where they are in partnerships with men, their husbands.On the death of the husband the widow often loses everything as male relatives scramble to loot using faulty interpretations of customary law.
“To address gender imbalances in mining, the government should make mining safe for women and provide more security and embark on national awareness campaigns to make it clear that women and men are equal at law and have the same rights and access to land and to mining.”
Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) programmes manager Nyaradzo Mutonhori said while the Constitution guarantees women’s civil liberties, some laws are fraught with irregularities that violate women’s rights.
“When we look at the law, we have the constitution and obviously it supports the participation of women in key economic sectors like mining, but when we move to the Mines and Minerals Act, there is no clear provision in terms of promoting women participation in the mining sector,” said Mutonhori.
“As Zela, we are advocating for a gender sensitive Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill and when we talk about women having access to the mining sector, what we want in the end is equal representation in the mining sector.”
Mutonhori said there was no transparency in the way in which mine claims are allocated.
“We have seen that there are mining claim conflicts and in most cases, women are reportedly losing their mining claims to the bullies and powerful individuals, who often target woman-owned claims,” she said.
In reference to Gogo Munyoro and other widows facing challenges in the mining sector, Mutonhori said it was something rampant among small-scale miners.
“When we talk about customary land rights, it is difficult for widows to operate because the relatives of her late husband will come and take over the control of the mine,” she said.
She added that there was a myth that women on periods should not get close to mining activities because the gold would disappear.
Gender and Women Affairs minister Sithembiso Nyoni has reiterated the need to embrace women in the lucrative mining sector.
l This article was published with the support of USAid, Internews and Advancing Rights in Southern Africa.