- FARAI SHAWN MATIASHE
Thomson Reuters Foundation
At first glance, Zimbabwe’s Zimbaqua mine looks normal: a series of shallow craters dotted with workers in overalls and helmets working hard to dig up the treasures below.
But a closer look reveals something unusual. In a male-dominated industry, everyone working to dig up precious aquamarine gems from the yellow soil is female.
“I no longer have to bother the father of my children because I pay school fees for two of my children who are in primary school,” said Shupi Kabudura, 33, who became a minor after fleeing an abusive husband with her three children. .
“I also buy basic necessities like clothes and food.”
Paidamoyo Koronga, a miner, poses for a photo at the Zimbaqua mine in Karoi, Zimbabwe on February 28. PHOTO: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Farai Shawn Mataishe.
Kabudura is one of around 25 women employed by Zimbaqua, which bills itself as the first mining company in Africa to be staffed entirely by women.
Many are forging new lives with the support of each other after escaping abuse such as rape, domestic violence or forced marriage.
“This project has become a solution for women in such situations. It has given them the choice of the environment and lifestyle they want not only for themselves, but also for their children.”
– Rumbidzai Gwinji, mine manager at Zimbaqua.
About one in five Zimbabwean women said they had experienced violence from their partner in the past year, according to a 2015 official survey, and child marriage remains widespread despite being outlawed by the Constitutional Court in 2016.
Rural women are often forced to stay in violent marriages because they are financially dependent on their husbands, said Rumbidzai Gwinji, manager of the Zimbaqua mine, which is located in the Karoi farming area in northern Nigeria. Zimbabwe.
“This project has become a solution for women in such situations,” she said.
“It gave them the choice of the environment and the way of life that they want not only for themselves, but also for their children.”
Outnumbered and abused
Zimbaqua was opened in 2019 by Iver Rosenkrantz, a Danish gemstone expert who has lived in Africa for over 15 years, and Zimbabwean Patrick Tendayi Zindoga.
“This [firm] came after realizing that women don’t have the same opportunities as men, especially in the mining sector,” Gwinji said.
Zimbaqua workers dig for the mine’s rich deposits of aquamarine, a pale blue to light green gemstone highly prized by jewelry designers and collectors around the world.
It’s hard work. The women use hammers to smash the rocks and reveal the aquamarine, which is easily visible due to its vivid color that stands out from the surrounding stone.
In return, they receive a living wage equivalent to around US$295 per month.
Miners sort aquamarine at the Zimbaqua mine in Karoi, Zimbabwe on February 28. PHOTO: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Farai Shawn Matiashe)
But these are outliers in an industry that is overwhelmingly made up of men.
women make up about 10 percent artisanal and small-scale miners in the country, found a 2016 report from the Pact Institute, a Washington DC-based development nonprofit.
The mining industry in neighboring South Africa has a gender disparityalthough the number of women in the industry is increasing.
“Women are few in the mining industry due to the challenges they face including verbal abuse and labeling from male counterparts who think they belong to the weaker sex,” Kundai Chikonzo said. , founder of Insiza Women In Mining Trust.
Men often don’t allow their wives to work as miners, Chikonzo said, and women don’t have the same opportunities for promotion.
Projects aimed at attracting more women into the industry can improve women’s prospects and also boost the economy at large, she added.
Aquamarine at the Zimbaqua mine in Karoi on February 28. PHOTO: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Farai Shawn Matiashe.
” Safe Haven “
Zimbaqua staff said their work gave them financial independence and new hope after escaping abuse.
Miner Paidamoyo Kuronga, 21, said she struggled to make ends meet as a single mother of a young girl until she discovered the opportunities in Zimbaqua.
“I was so excited to get my very first job,” she said.
Now she plans to go back to school to take a mining-related course to further her career in the industry.
Gwinji said the mine is working on plans for a daycare center near the mine for employees’ children.
New working mothers in Zimbaqua are granted three months maternity leave on full pay and are given regular breastfeeding breaks on their return, she added.
Zimbaqua workers said the mine had not only given them a fresh start, but represented a beacon of hope for others hoping to escape domestic violence.
“I know there are other women who are experiencing (gender-based violence). I hope our business will grow so that more women can come to this shelter,” Kabudura said.