08 August 2022
Compiled by Nobuhle T (Mabhikwa) Chikuni – ZELA and Josephine Singo
In December 2019, the first COVID-19 case was reported in Wuhan, China, while Zimbabwe recorded its first COVID-19 case in March 2020. As part of the global response to the pandemic, Zimbabwe developed a cocktail of measures including the COVID-19 restrictions to mitigate severe adverse impacts of the pandemic e.g., the loss of lives. In Zimbabwe, the pandemic has resulted in significant changes in the economy, social life, livelihood sources, and the mining value chains. Some immediate impacts have been felt, and some still are and will continue to be felt even beyond the pandemic. The Artisanal and Small scale miners data collection survey revealed that COVID-19 compounded the impacts of the declining economy and disproportionately disrupted gender participation, human security, the supply chain, and food security in the Zimbabwean ASM sector.
While some research has suggested that women and men have suffered equally from lost access to mine sites and shorter working hours , results from the data collection process from Shurugwi and Gwanda shows otherwise. The adverse effects were felt more by the women as compared to the men. For many, COVID-19 resulted in sicknesses and deaths of prominent community figures, family members, relatives, and friends. Some miners in ASM communities also experienced unexplainable COVID-related illnesses, which were suspected COVID- cases. Women, therefore, occupied the role of nursing the sick, particularly at the family level. As a result, some women left mining, occupied nursing roles, and eventually struggled to resume mining duties in ASM. Due to the reduced workforce, women-owned mines were also an easy target for criminal opportunists thereby compromising the security of women-owned operations. In addition, the closure of schools increased unpaid labor for women as women had to spend more time at home nursing the sick and baby-sitting. Hence the reduction of working hours for women. At the same time, some women who had terminated ASM roles had not resumed ASM activities during the 2022 survey.
However, for a very few, the pandemic created opportunities, as mining became an alternative source of livelihood for women who lost livelihood sources such as workplace food vendors. In Gwanda, one participant reported that more women resorted to selling food and clothes to ASM communities. Hence, while some women who were traditionally in the sector stopped mining activities, some women resorted to selling food and other essential items in ASM. In Shurugwi, one participant indicated that several women in mining had started digging for gold, thereby occupying better-paying roles. On the other hand, most men continued working, and due to rising unemployment, more men joined the sector.
An increase in equipment and material theft from mine sites was noted, likely driven by increased economic insecurity and a reduced presence of workers at mine sites, giving rise to opportunism. The increase in theft marks a worrying trend that could impact future sectoral recovery efforts.In Gwanda, insecurity was worsened by the impacts of COVID-19, and crime became more rampant in ASM communities. Attacks on miners in ASM by groups locally known as ‘jambaja’ emerged. Raiding and attacks targeting ASM involved losing gold and money, and physical attacks became familiar, associated with higher vulnerabilities for women. A discussion with a woman in mining who was a victim in Gwanda revealed that the average security personnel were attacked on her site by the violent invaders. Hence the need for armed security personnel. However, the above-said woman miner expressed that hiring armed security personnel was expensive given the associated licensing costs. For instance, renewing a prospecting license was 379 USD per block, and failure to submit quarterly environmental reports was associated with penalties.
Health and Safety
‘The only positive thing brought by COVID-19 was awareness of health and safety; otherwise, the rest was a disaster.’ Shared one respondent.
Integrating the WHO COVID-19 protocols in the routine ASM activities and informal practices was a challenge. Some miners improvised makeshift PPE such as homemade masks and handwashing points at entrance points. However, miners still needed dust masks for effective protection against respirable chemical dust. It was impracticable for miners to maintain social distancing in confined working places. In addition, sanitation and hygiene was low. At the same time, equipment was shared among the workers thereby increasing the risk of contracting and spreading the Coronavirus disease.
Awareness raising on COVID protocol was an opportunity to sensitize ASM communities on health and safety. Miners accessed messages on COVID prevention through the radio, the television, WhatsApp community, and through religious leaders. In Shurugwi it was reported that the ASM associations had pulled resources and established a COVID-19 ward for artisanal miners. COVID vaccination was available at various health centers, and a significant number of miners in the survey reported that they were vaccinated against COVID-19. However, the vaccination was not accessible to all miners. Barriers to accessing COVID-19 vaccination for the miners encompassed queues at health centers and associated traveling costs for miners in remote locations. There were no COVID-19 vaccination centers in ASM mining communities.
Food security and poverty
According to UNICEF, the level of food insecurity increased with the pandemic. The poverty rate was already high at 38 percent in 2019, according to the Zimbabwe Poverty Update of 2017 to 2019. The poverty rate was estimated to have reached 49 percent in 2020. The survey revealed that rising poverty was driven by increase in price of food and other necessities, income loss due to the economic contraction caused by the COVID19 pandemic. Although, poverty was in general much lower in urban areas, urban poverty had risen faster than rural poverty in relative terms since 2017.
In the ASM Sector Food insecurity escalated, and skipping meals became the norm partly because of low production. Skipping meals was more prominent among bigger families than smaller families. For instance, one young male miner, 23 years old, who was single and the only family member, reported that he managed to work harder and maintain the number of his daily meals. While in some cases the women shared limited proportions of food with children as schools were closed and movement was restricted. Concurrently, there were more mouths to feed as the children spent more time at home and in some cases the adults in the informal sector had lost their jobs. Hence, the number and quality of meals decreased as compared to the period before the COVID-19 pandemic. An increase in the cost of living was noted making it nearly impossible for many families to have three meals a day. For some families, remittances from relatives in the diaspora ceased vs the rise in food prices.
Low Gold production by ASM was noted in 2020. According to the survey, production became lower due to suspension of mining operations, followed by skeletal staff, limited access to mining sites, and limited availability of inputs. Resuming mining activities to normal production levels required more capital to revive flooding shafts. With little capital and the lack of access to financial support, the sector was still operating under the average level of production. The ever-changing gold pricing structure adopted by Fidelity Printers and Refinery (FPR) distresses the ASM miners. ASM miners accepted the fixed pricing model for gold at $45 per gram, with mixed feelings. Some ASM miners initially thought it was a good small step forward, but many of the key ASM miners dismissed it and said the fixed price offered was not competitive as compared to the Parallel market which offered higher rates and paid cash. The FPR price was only 80% of the world market price. Many ASM miners indicated that FPR was taking long to pay miners. This had left miners in doubt of their service and forcing some to sell their gold to the parallel market. However, FPR has liberalised its gold buying system by floating the gold price according to global gold prices. This was welcome by many ASM miners.
While Covid 19 may have been the main factor for changes in price, in the year 2022 other external factors such as Russia-Ukraine war have affected the gold prices and the mineral supply chain. The gold price had gone down.
Although COVID-19 increased awareness on health and safety in ASM in Zimbabwe, the economic impacts of COVID-19 could continue beyond the pandemic. Hence the need for capital and equipment to revive the sector and support the participation of women.
 Grant Murewanhema et al. A descriptive study of the trends of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe from March-June 2020: policy and strategy implications. Pan African Medical Journal. 2020;37(1):33.
 Gendered Impacts of Covid19 on Artisanal and Small-scale mining. 2022. Olivia Lyster, Levin Sources; Ashley Smith-Roberts, Levin Sources; and Ege Tekinbas, IGF