Every society invents its own language. Small scale and artisanal miners in Zimbabwe seem to have a bountiful of terms to describe their day to day struggles and aspirations.
In the Midlands, ‘Kuvhuna’ which literally means to break is one concept that under an era where formal employment has plummeted, becomes topical.
The average small scale and artisanal miner lacks working capital to fund operations and pay for labour. This rather peculiar situation has given rise to an innovative arrangement between most claim holders and their labour force.
In fact, the workforce has become partners to most operations. They know what they want and essentially broker terms of their engagement.
Most labour contracts in small scale mining function in a pretty simple manner. Prospective employees search out for claims where they suspect that the resource is rich.
The owner of the claim can also go out in search of partners. Upon reaching an understanding between holder/ ‘sponsor” a deal is hatched which generally stipulates a percentage to be shared between the parties.
Generally, the claim holder or sponsor will commit to providing a minimal level of start-up capital which includes food, a compressor, basic ore haulage equipment, otherwise known as “Ndirayi”, and explosives.
In return, he/she is entitled to anything between 40-60 percent on the gold returns at the gold milling plant and in addition also gets back their initial capital. The remainder of the money is distributed to the labour partners.
When this deal works well, it makes for a perfect partnership. The miners will mine, the claim holder or sponsor provides initial capital and at the end of each milling cycle which could be anything between days to months, its payday.
Trouble starts when expectations are not met by results at the milling plant. Unlike more developed mines, most small scale miners get to know about how much they have made at the end of the milling cycle.
What this does is that most of the miners are really prone to the vagaries of their imaginative world. A miner may, for instance, believe that their ore will give them 100 grammes of gold and yet they get only 10 grammes or less. It is at this point where the unspoken arrangement in the labour agreement kicks in.
In most instances, that’s when ‘Kuvhuna’ occurs. Simply said the miners clandestinely disappear only to re-emerge elsewhere where they believe their fortunes may be better.
There is no advance notice and certainly no labour package. Claim holders or sponsors may just wake up to be told your entire workforce is gone.
In today’s instalment of Celebrating Women in Mining, Great Dyke News 24 reporter Jeoffrey Ncube spoke to Maria Masimba (MM) who has been a victim of kuvhuna , whereby she was left with nothing after a year of sponsoring four boys at her mine .
JN:CAN YOU TELL US WHO YOU ARE?
I am a self-empowered lady as well as a Chairlady in Women in Mining Manicaland Miners Association under ZMF. I reside at Tsvingwe Township, a valley surrounded by big mountain full of Gold in Penhalonga Mutare.
JN: HOW DID YOU GET INTO MINING?
MM: I feel honoured to be a small scale miner. It has been a dream come true since l have been longing to be my own boss. I am someone who was so curious about mining and this prompted me to take courage and join it in 2015.
I enquired on how to join the sector and was advised to visit the Ministry of Mines. During my enquiries from different men who were already in mining, I faced many responses and feedback but most of them were so discouraging and demotivating since most men thought women cannot own claims or get involved in mining.
I felt that maybe it’s not my right choice but the tables had to turn when I visited the ministry. I was so uplifted and given hope as a woman I was offered my first block and I started mining with only four boys with two shovels and a pick which I had borrowed.
It was so hectic and tiresome I tell you, to such an extent that the boys had to run away when they had dug 10 meters deep.
They ran away with all the tools which they were using and left me with nothing. However I went around again looking for other boys we started mining again for the whole year but there was no production.
This made my husband to be so furious to me since I had been pumping out money buying food for the boys. I still remember the day he chased me out after using his money to buy the food for the boys. That time I was starting to lose hope, then I dumped mining that year forfarming.
In 2018 I was back again in mining. This time I was back with a bang, l borrowed some money and bought some tools since I had a bit of experience. We managed to discover some belts and had to buy a compressor on instalments. This made my work easier as we were now able to dig deeper and open more belts.
My life started changing drastically, l bought a lot ofequipment like demolition hammer, generators among others.
However when things started flowing obstacles became more dominant. Last year all my equipment that includescompressor, demolition hammer and generator were stolen and up to date l haven’t recovered them yet.
I am just praying that the same God who gave them to me will restore them. As for now I’m now using the manual way but we are making it.
JN: WHAT IS THE PRESENT SCALE OF YOUR MINING OPERATIONS?
MM: I am still at the level of a small scale miner and I’m mining gold. I have 2 blocks of mines which are very rich with good samples and good percentage and on averagely we get 5grams per tonne and my gold percentage is 84 % and above.
JN: WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE AS A WOMAN MINER?
MM: Being a miner is very challenging and to make matters worse when you are a woman. The challenges I am facing are lackof capital to improve my production and machinery like excavators since one of my blocks is located in a mountainous area. I also encounter some flooding in the tunnels hence the need for some submersible pumps and generators.
Ore transport costs from my mine to the mill are so exorbitant. There are still some people who still have the gender stereotyping mind, they think women cannot mine hence they need awareness.
Theft is one of the major challenges l am facing as a woman miner, l have lost a lot of machinery to thieves and balancingup the loss is still difficult but lm trying my level best.
JN: HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR WORK AS A MINER AND A MOTHER?
MM: It takes more than a strong and courageous woman to balance the two because sometimes it seems like you want to balancenorth and south pole, however I am trying my best and it seems like I am winning because I am still moving on with both my mine and my home.
It is very tiresome, for example, sometimes you need to go to the mine and come back and do the household chores. My husband is very supportive and very helpful such that sometimes he even helps me in doing the household chores and sometimes at the mine.
JN: HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU EMPLOY AT YOUR MINE?
MM: I am working with 16 people including my son who is very humble and supportive.
JN: WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO WOMEN WHO WANT TO VENTURE INTO MINING?
MM: To all women out there, never limit yourself, the sky is the limit. There is nothing that men can do that we cannot do. Don’t let people shatter your dreams. Mining makes you your own boss.