Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
By Theresa Moyo
This article focuses on mining, which is an important part of the economy in southern Africa. It discusses the role of women in mining and the impact of the sector on their lives. The importance of mining is reflected in its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), foreign exchange earnings, and employment. According to SADC (2000: 1), mining contributes about 60 percent of total foreign exchange earnings, 10 percent of total GDP (though in some member states it goes up to 50 percent), and about five percent of direct formal employment.
The region is also an important player on the international minerals market, with between 11 percent and 45 percent of the world supply of eight major commodities, namely, gold, platinum, diamonds, copper, uranium, cobalt, manganese, and chromite. South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Zimbabwe and Zambia are known to have vast mineral resources. Until 2007, when China emerged in the gold industry, South Africa was the world’s largest gold producer. South Africa supplies about 80 percent of the world’s platinum. The mining industry is also South Africa’s biggest employer, with around 460, 000 employees, and another 400, 000 employed by the suppliers of goods and services to the industry. Botswana, DRC and Namibia have large diamond resources. Zimbabwe also has a rich mineral resource base, which includes gold, platinum, asbestos, platinum group metals (PGM), and recently-discovered diamonds in the Chiadzwa area. Zambia’s economy has been sustained by the copper industry for many years.
Despite such rich resource endowments, it is ironic that these countries still have a high prevalence of poverty and inequality, even in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, which the United Nations classify in the Medium Human Development (MHD) category of countries. With regard to women, the mining sector is an injustice. Based on the evidence which was reviewed, the majority of women in the region are largely excluded or marginalised from participating in or benefiting from the vast mineral wealth of the region. They are at the periphery of the industry. They have limited access to mineral wealth in terms of ownership or equity participation and they are marginalised in terms of governance and management of the industry, as reflected in the tiny minority of women who are on the boards of directors of mining companies and in senior management and supervisory positions. In terms of employment, women constitute a very small proportion of the sector total. Although it should be acknowledged that, to some extent, women have benefited from the corporate social responsibility expenditure of mining companies, the evidence seems to suggest that these benefits are limited.
The main objectives of this article are to assess the participation of women in mining in southern Africa and to assess the underlying factors which limit participation. It also examines the impact of mining activities on women. Finally, the paper explores strategies to improve women’s participation in ability and to benefit from, the sector, and to reduce the negative impact on their lives.
The paper raises a number of questions. What role are women playing in the sector? What factors have determined their participation or non-participation? What is the impact of mining activities on the lives of women? What policies and strategies are required in order to promote greater and more meaningful participation of women?