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Effects of Covid-19 on women gold miners in Zimbabwe

By Lucy Tandi – Monday 14 June 2021

LOCAL – HARARE (Mining Index) – WOMEN bullion miners across Zimbabwe’s mining sector have not been spared from the effects of Covid-19.

With government imposing lockdown measures, curfews and shutting down major economic sectors to curb spread of the virus, the mining sector was also prejudiced, recording a depletion in mineral output and revenue.

While the artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) have been the largest contributor of god deliveries to Zimbabwe’s state-owned sole gold buyer, Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR), gold deliveries to Fidelity by the ASM sector significantly dropped during the third quarter of 2020, recording 1462.213 tonnes compared to 2478.1176 tonnes delivered in the second quarter of 2020.

Gold received by Fidelity for the second quarter of 2020 also declined, falling short of 1,633.71 tonnes from deliveries recorded in the first quarter of 2020 while deliveries for the first quarter of 2020 dropped to 5,721.71 tonnes compared to 6,523.49 tonnes delivered in the same period in 2019.

Albeit the mining sector having been exempted from the lockdown, the sector was affected by the Corona Virus pandemic with emphasis to operate and adhere to the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

This scaled down the number of women involved in mining operations.

While women miners reduced their capacity, they were still required to honor up payment of fixed mining fees and rates despite reduced production levels.

Moreover, Rural District Councils (RDCs) reviewed rural levies, with some local authorities having pegged RDC levies in foreign currency.

Due to Covid-19, foreign currency shortage was recorded that resulted in delayed payments to miners by FPR.

Delays in payment of gold deliveries to Fidelity impacted on gold mining activities by female miners.

Women were forced to trade on the parallel market where bogus gold buyers paid them cash on spot, at a much higher price relative to what FPR was offering.

Although Fidelity Printers, made a policy pronouncement on the gold buying framework in June 2020 to pay small-scale miners 100 percent in foreign currency for their gold deliveries, FPR failed to pay miners timeously.

‘Fidelity agents at times delay gold payments resulting in loss of mine labour as we could not get gold payments to pay them on time,’ revealed Chiedza Chipangura, Women Entrepreneurs Zimbabwe founder and CEO.

The closure of borders such as the South African border affected procurement of equipment resulting in the shortage of mining equipment and consumables.

In instances where these were available locally, they would be overpriced or of substandard quality compared to the imported items.

FPR general manager, Fradreck Kunaka, attributed delays in paying for gold to COVID-19 induced closure of borders and grounding of flights that resulted in the shortage of foreign currency in Zimbabwe.

“The Covid-19 pandemic which has had negative effects that have affected the operation to full capacity of the whole economy has not spared the inflow of foreign currency into the country. The USD is imported and with the lockdown, the operation of flights has been affected, with reduced movement, cash has not been received as frequently to satisfy the demand,” said Kunaka.

In some cases, payments took as long as two weeks to be processed.

This frustrated the miners, forcing some to sell their gold to the parallel market where the payment process was prompt and the prices better that the official bank rate.

While FPR was paying US$45 per gram of gold, parallel market gold buyers were offering around US$55 per gram.

Before the Covid- 19 pandemic hit, women miners were recovering from machete gang attacks that resulted in loss of property, death and injury of their workers.

In January 2020, government, through the Zimbabwe republic Police launched “Chikorokoza Ngachipere/No to Machete Gangs which followed the establishment of special courts in areas hardest hit by machete gangs to decisively deal with organised machete cliques that are terrorising miners and civilians.

During the lockdown period, theft, and criminality in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector continued in Mashonaland Central, Midlands and Matebeleland South.

In Gwanda, for instance, machete gangs increased along the gold value chain, thereby affecting the women.

According to investigations done by the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA) on Mthandazo Women Miners Association (MWMA), an association for women miners, confirmed that women in Gwanda experienced gold ore and equipment theft to machete hooligans.

‘MWMA identified theft, criminality and violence as some of the major risks in their operations,’ revealed ZELA in one of its situational reports.

Women miners also shared experiences of low gold productivity since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

‘Women miners were to a greater extent disadvantaged by Covid -19. We faced several challenges because of successive lockdowns effected in Zimbabwe. As a nation, we have existing transport challenges, and the successive lockdowns exacerbated movement of mine workers,’

‘The major reason for low production were curfews that resulted in artisanal and small-scale miners working shorter hours as compared to utilizing the entire 24 hours. Curfews would normally run from 6am to 3pm, meaning that everyone was supposed to be indoors,’ said Chipangura.

At gold processing centres, a decrease in the amount of gold processed per month was recorded.

‘Before the pandemic, Mthandazo Women Miners Association used to produce on average 160 tonnes of ore per month. With the pandemic the amount of ore processed decreased to 90-100 tonnes per month,’ said ZELA.

MWMA attributed the decrease in gold production at the milling site to movement restrictions (for miners to bring their ores to the milling centre), reduced working hours, reduced personnel (workers at the milling centre) and the reduced load (ores) from miners.

Mthandazo association also said the women did not have sufficient equipment to use, while closure of border with South Africa affected trade and supply of mining equipment.

Inadequate resources was also cited to have incapacitated Ministry of Mines and Mining Development provincial offices, which at some point were reported to be operating below capacity.

Chipangura said lack of human resources at provincial mines offices affected women miners in receiving payments on gold deliveries timeously.

‘There was time when the mines provincial offices were operating at 10 percent capacity,’ said Chipangura.

According to Chipangura, traditional culture also played a part on reducing gold output by women miners.

‘During funerals, you will find that two-thirds of mourners are women. Because of our culture and tradition, women are expected to comfort the bereaved, spending time at the funeral when they are supposed to mining, like their fellow men,’ she said. ENDS//

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