Miners call for policy reform in Zimbabwe

By Charlene P. Ambali   |   May 10, 2012 at 2:20 PM
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MBERENGWA, ZIMBABWE – Phineas Moyo, 31, works in a small mine and as a farmer in Mberengwa, a district in southern Zimbabwe. He is married and has two children.

His wife is pregnant with their third child. She is a housewife and also takes care of the family vegetable garden for household consumption.

But this agricultural season, a drought prevented them from harvesting anything. Moyo has therefore had to rely on his income from mining – an occupation characterized by risk, hard work and low pay.

Moyo briefly disappears into a makeshift plastic shelter. He emerges five minutes later barefoot, pulling on cut-off shorts and a worn T-shirt. These are his mine-working clothes.

Moyo doesn’t have his own mine, as he can’t afford it. Together with three other friends, he provides labor at mines owned by others.

The mine owner pays for the expenses, such as compressors, jackhammers, food, fuel, explosives, transport and milling. They then share the profit – 65 percent to the mine owner and 35 percent to the laborers.

The mine workers’ main job is to clear areas to be drilled as well as to remove stones and soil from drilled shafts. They also gather ore.

It takes about three weeks for the team on site to gather enough ore for milling. Another week is spent at the milling machine once the team joins the queue there and waits for its chance to extract gold from the stones.

If they are lucky, they get 50 grams of gold after milling 7 to 10 tons of ore, Moyo says. The mine owner, who has a license for the mine, sells the gold at $40 per gram.

“$1,000 usually covers costs then each of us,” Moyo says. “The laborers get around $170 after a monthlong, backbreaking job.

But sometimes they earn less.

“At times, the mine owner does not have money to cover expenses, and a sponsor is then brought on board and gets a share,” Moyo says.

In this case, profits are usually split – one-third to the sponsor, one-third to the mine owner and one-third for the laborers to divide among themselves.

But many times, the mine workers don’t earn anything at all.

“Most of the times, we don’t even get enough gold to cover costs,” Moyo says. “When this happens, we just pack up and move to the next mine until we get lucky.”

Despite being forced to walk away empty-handed after hours of hard labor, Moyo says he has not lost hope. He says he continues to look forward to fruitful partnerships with mine owners.

“For us, the unlicensed miners, using a chisel and hammer is slow, labor-intensive and it is illegal as we can get arrested by the police,” says Moyo, who, along with many other laborers, doesn’t have a prospecting license. “So, partnerships with mine owners are a good deal for us since we can’t afford to own mines.”

Persistent droughts and a lack of alternative income sources have forced various farmers into mining, which involves difficult labor with many times no pay. Mine owners say they want to create fair pay and satisfactory working conditions to comply with Zimbabwean laws, but a lack of profits forces them to fall short. The government has implemented legislation to protect local workers, including in the mining industry, but recent fee hikes to boost government revenue make it hard for them to follow the law.

Mining contributes 20 percent to Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product, according to a 2010 report by the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe. About 45,000 citizens were employed in the mining industry as of then in Zimbabwe, a country of 12.5 million people.

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