Hwange Women Forage Mine Dumps For Survival

Women in Hwange are reportedly resorting to extracting coke at disused mines, sand poaching and quarry making as the aftershocks of Covid-19 are felt by communities.

According to women who spoke to CITE the national lockdown affected their incomes and livelihoods further making them more vulnerable as their husbands lost jobs while most relied on informal work. It is estimated that 90 percent of Zimbabweans work in the informal economy with many living from hand to mouth with women the hardest hit.

At a Hwange Colliery Company disused coke dumpsite women sift through the rumble in search of coke which they sell to haulage trucks and brick moulders. Recently a 27 year old woman died after being buried alive when the dumpsite caved in while another escaped with broken limbs as they searched for coke.

“Before the lockdown I was an informal trader, I had a market stall where I sold vegetables, however, when Covid-19 happened it didn’t give us a chance as we went into lockdown. With no sources of livelihood we decided to team up with other women to go and forage for coke. We sell this coke packed in sacks to truck drivers especially those who come to collect coal from the Colliery. This is how we have been staying afloat it’s not easy, but if we don’t our children will die of hunger. We know the risks sometimes police together with security from the company conduct raids but we have no choice, government has not assisted us,” said Melody Muleya.

She added that one of the raids led to the shooting of two women as police fired live bullets to disperse people who were picking coke. A 50kg of coke fetches between US$3 and US$5 depending on the quality of the product and this has attracted more people especially women into the business. Some women are retrieving old metals from dumpsites and selling them at the truck stop where they are bought and transported to Harare by haulage trucks. A truck goes around collecting the junk metal from sellers with prices ranging from 5 cents to 10cents per kilogramme. When CITE visited a quarry mine at the industrial site sounds could be heard coming from the bush as hammers broke rock into small pieces. A few meters away a crusher belonging Chinese company, David Qui churns out quarry in large volumes.  Women who come here take risks of being prosecuted for trespassing as the area belongs to the company.

“Things are hard we have no choice but to eke a living through quarry making. Since the lockdown restricted a lot of things especially in the informal sector which we survived on, we were forced to seek other means of survival. So here we gather rocks and crush them with into quarry stones using heavy metals in different sizes. We sell this quarry mostly to land developers in Empumalanga phase 4, it’s a very hard and tiresome job but we have no choice,” said one elderly woman who refused to be identified. 

Meanwhile in Lubweludile village in Change ward, women are reportedly poaching sand which they extract from tributaries of Lukosi river which they sell to land developers in Hwange. 

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Hwange district chairperson, Catherine Madondo said the pandemic had disrupted incomes negatively affecting households food security with women bearing the brunt.

“Yes, the Covid 19 induced lockdown had negative impacts exposing women mostly to harsh conditions such as what we are hearing about. The projects are not good undertakings as they are risking their lives because of hunger companies should be trying to assist these women including widows through their corporate responsibility. As an organisation we are working on petitions to compel government to have social protection measures that cushion women in times like these seeing that most have become breadwinners.” 

According to the latest ZimVac report, Covid 19 negatively impacted on food and nutrition security where most households depend on informal economy.

“Households in Matabeleland North had their livelihoods affected by the Covid 19 pandemic in varied ways. The most reported impacts were reduced food sources (62%), reduced sources of income (50.1%) and failing to access basic commodities (21.9%). The shock exposure index (11) compared to the ability to cope (6). This was an indication that most households were not coping well with the current shock they were experiencing,” said the report.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)