Mining has historically been men’s work, but the number of women employed in South Africa’s mining sector has grown strongly by 46% since 2020 to more than 73 000 by the end of 2023.
Minerals Council President Nolitha Fakude said at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, a conference that attracted some 9500 delegates from all over the world, that although great strides had been made in women empowerment in the industry, only two thirds of the target in the Mining Charter on gender transformation had been met.
She said it was important that women were not only employees for mining companies, but that they be part of the entire value chain in the industry.
She said for instance, more than 8000 women owned businesses had benefited from mining industry procurement for the first time, between 2020 and 2021.
But while the mining industry can provide employment and opportunity, women however are also still too often the victims of mineral exploitation activities.
The theme of this year’s Alternative Mining Indaba, another conference that was held in Cape Town at the same time as the Mining Indaba, was Energy Transition Minerals: Putting Community First for an Inclusive Feminist Future.
The conference, attended by more women than men and from different parts of Africa, in stark contrast to the more male dominated formal Mining Indaba, focused this year on the women and children on the continent who had been impacted by mining.
Father Celestio Epalanga of the Justice and Peace Commission from Angola said mining on the continent by its very nature radically transformed the communities where they operate, in that the landscape was changed, there was usually forced migration, there was the loss of public goods and private and public spaces, while the effects of mines usually, for women, compounded an environment where women were oppressed by men.
He said mining in rural Africa also often had the effects of stopping access to small farming activities and rivers and sources of freshwater, both of which were essential for rural women who traditionally did most of the small scale farming on the continent.
Mining also introduced societal changes, bringing along with it risks such as forcing some women to resort to prostitution to provide food for their families. He said mining on the continent was often done with the consent of irresponsible and corrupt governments in the continent.
The Alternative Mining Indaba also heard first hand accounts of such oppression, such as from a young mother of four in Zambia, who had lost her small cassava farming operation to pollution from trenches dug when a manganese mine started up nearby.
The streams that traditionally provided clean water for their village had become polluted and people in her village were too afraid to speak openly about their problems with the mine, did not know their rights to do so, while mine employees simply told them that they had the necessary papers from the government to be able to mine on the land.
Leonard Mabasa, from the Residence Network Trust in Buhera in Zimbabwe, said the “lithium mining rush” provided up to 300 new jobs in their region and would contribute to better local economic growth and government tax income.
However, many families were struggling with poor living conditions after being relocated to make way for mining, traditional livelihoods were disrupted, burial grounds had been exhumed, retraumatising the burial for many people, and roads were being destroyed and had become potholed because of the constraint movement of large mining trucks .
Mabasa said it was essential that mining companies provide a proper platform for dialogue with affected communities.