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The plight of former mine migrant workers

By Midlands Correspondent  – Wednesday 8 September 2021

HARARE (Mining Index) – HE WAS staring vacantly in the space pondering on the next move. The far away look from his sunken eyes told a story of a hard road traversed in the furrows of life.

The thought of living this compound which he had called home for the past 70 years of his life, 30 of which were spent in the service of the company, which today no longer needs him anyway near the company premises like a rabid dog was sorrowful.

That is the story of 77 year old Biggy Banda of Tiger Reef in Kwekwe.

Originally from Malawi, the prospects of a better life lured the then youthful Banda and some youths from his Dedza District in Malawi to undertake the great trek, then Southern Rhodesia in search of employment.

Upon arrival in Southern Rhodesia Banda undertook some menial jobs in the capital Salisbury before being lured by the gold rich Midlands province were he briefly worked for various mines before settling for the then Lonrho owned Tiger Reef.

Fast forward, what then turned as a fairytale life for him as a machine operator at the now defunct Tiger Reef has now turned into a nightmare.

Tiger Reef Mine is currently under judicial management and some of the changes being run by the administrator is to dispose of the company houses, which has seen the unfortunate ones like Banda, being given eviction notices while a fortunate few have been given an opportunity to buy the houses.

“I spent the greater part of my life working for Tiger Reef. It is quite disheartening that all my years of service are not amounting to anything as I am now told that I must leave the company promises,” he said.

Some of the former Tiger Reef workers are contesting the evictions in the court of law.

“The company is owing me a lot of money but they are now evicting me with nothing,” Banda said.

Going back to his native Malawi is not a welcoming prospect.

“This is now my home. I have never been to Malawi for over 40 years now. The only home which my family know is here,” he said.

Widows have not been spared from the ongoing evictions at Tiger Reef and those of Zambian, Malawian and Mozambican extract have been hardest hit.

“My husband died in 2012. He was a machine operator for the company (Tiger Reef) for more than 20 years. Now I am being evicted from the premises without any offer to pay for the house.

“My late husband served the company for a very long time but gratuity and service allowance were paid yet today they want to evict me from the house. Where will I go with my family and how will I take care of my children,” Eneres Phiri from Zambia said.

A lawyer representing Tiger Reef Valentine Mutatu said the former workers who are now being evicted were offered transport to take them to their rural homes.

“We offered transport to those who are being evicted from the company houses to go to their rural homes. Some took the offer. While most of those who are resisting to move didn’t take up the offer for reasons best known to them,” Mutatu said.

It has been gathered that the majority of those who refused the offer are former migrant workers with nowhere to go.

The country’s labour board said these migrant workers have become part of the Zimbabwean society.

“Those workers who decided to make Zimbabwe their homes are in the same predicament with everyone else. The majority become part of the Zimbabwean society. While some are leading better lives, others are not in a better situation. Some maintained their contacts with their countries of birth whilst others no longer have contacts of any relatives of where they came from. Unlike Zimbabweans who retired to their communal reserves after losing their jobs, some without their own houses find themselves being lodgers even at old age and sometimes homeless. The lucky ones were those that married local women and they were able to find accommodation with in-laws. Some left offsprings that are leaving nomadic lives. They move from farm/mine compounds to the other depending on where they get employment. The lucky ones got assimilated into Zimbabwean society and are now part of the population contributing to our GDP. The challenge comes when the constitution disenfranchise them when it comes to certain services and rights,” said Japhet Moyo, ZCTU Secretary General in an interview.

Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU) General Secretary Justice Chinhema said former migrant workers are faced with numerous challenges.

“Most of these former migrant workers are now old pensioners from our former big mines such as Mhangura , Alaska, Shabane Mashava, Hwange , Zisco and other mines. They have faced several challenges as some do not have any places to stay as they only knew of mine compounds. The mine houses is what they only had. Now most of them are being evicted from those houses. Most are leaving the mining compounds with nothing. These former workers cannot return to their native countries because Zimbabwe is the only home which they know. What makes the situation difficult for these former employees is that some do not even have identification documents. Some have never been to Harare to visit MIPF to claim what ever they can get as pension. There were no exit medical insurance as required by law, the situation is very terrible. It is sad that most of these former migrant workers were employed in some big mines some of which were closed and never to be reopened. While for those reopening, the new owners are demanding that they move out of the houses,” he said.

A Redcliff law-maker, Lloyd Mukapiko speaking about the plight of former migrant workers employed by Zisco Steel said they have been given a raw deal by the government.

“These migrant workers contributed a lot to our national development as they were working for Zisco Steel. The majority of them are now old with nowhere to go and no employment prospects. What is sad is that it is not only the former migrant workers who are affected, there are no safety nets put in place by our government to protect its vulnerable members of the society. For instance in the case of Zisco Steel, these individuals were supposed to be covered by pension but there is nothing. The situation is better for native Zimbabweans because they retreated to their rural homes upon the closure of the company but for the migrant workers the situation is different as they have nowhere to go as Zimbabwe is their new home,” he said.

Local Government Minister July Moyo said government acknowledged that these former migrant workers with their families are now part of the Zimbabwean society.

“We now consider them as part of our Zimbabwean society. They are now part of us. I know that these former migrant workers even have their own chiefs amongst themselves. I have gathered we have chiefs such as Chief Mponda, Chief Chivaura and Chief Makanjira amongst others. This shows that they are now part of our community,” said Moyo said during his campaign for a parliamentary seat in Redcliff in 2018. ENDS//

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