Mining while female: The perils of Marikana – by Ilham Rawoot (Al – January 20, 2014)

Women miners in South Africa say they are often subjected to sexual harassment – and worse – while on the job.

Johannesburg, South Africa – It has been almost two years since 27-year-old Pinky Mosiane was raped and murdered hundreds of metres underground in an Anglo Platinum mineshaft in Marikana, South Africa.

A suspect in the Mosiane case was finally arrested three months ago. This was not the first time a woman mineworker had been raped underground in South Africa. But it was the first time that substantial attention was given to these women and the sexual harassment they are subjected to on a daily basis.

In August 2012, a mining town named Marikana, along the “Platinum Belt” in South Africa’s North West province, made headlines around the globe. Thirty-four mineworkers employed by platinum miner Lonmin were killed when police opened fire during a strike over wages.

But the women of Lonmin have often remained unnoticed. “Anne”, a miner employed by Lonmin in Marikana who asked that her real name not be used, has been working underground for three years fixing ventilation pipes. With her gold-painted nails and not a stray hair amid her tight braids, it is hard to imagine her labouring in overalls, covered in black dust.

“After [the end of the work day] at midday, we have to wait till 3:30pm in the waiting area for the lift to take us back to the surface,” she says. “Some days, it was me alone with 12 men.” She says there have been days where there have been five women left in the waiting area with as many as 65 men.

Because many mining companies either do not meet the 10 percent quota of female employees required by the South African Mining Charter, or stick to the minimum, there are often very few women on a shift with dozens of men. Just eight percent of Lonmin employees are women.

Few female miners

Sue Vey, a spokesperson for Lonmin, said that while the company has not met the 10 percent quota, it was planning “to achieve this milestone”. Just over five percent of the company’s female employees work underground. She says the mine does not consider the ratio of men to women allocated to a shift, instead appointing them based on the requirements of the roles.

“Eish, how many women were raped underground?” Anne asks rhetorically, shaking her head. She says that if a woman were to be raped, she would not report it to an authority figure, for fear of losing her job. “There are only two toilets in the section. One for men and one for women. For 70 workers. But it’s so far to walk and it’s dark, dark, dark. Even if you scream, no-one is going to hear you.”

Tiny Magija, the coordinator of the Justice for Pinky Mosiane Campaign, says that while companies are aware of the issue of sexual abuse and harassment underground, they are not doing much about it.

“Research has shown that gender-based violence in mining is very rife,” she says. “The quota has always been there, but it hasn’t been implemented and no-one is voicing an opinion about it, till it’s at the point where abuse is happening every day. Women in the mining industry are seen as sex objects.”

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