Women zama-zamas empowered

2019-08-14 06:00
Michelle Goliath (left) with Elisa Louw, who is now working as a legal artisan miner.Photo: Supplied

Michelle Goliath (left) with Elisa Louw, who is now working as a legal artisan miner.Photo: Supplied

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Tehoho Setena

A study into illegal miners, commonly known as zama-zamas, by a student at the University of the State (UFS), has resulted in empowering ordinary women as legal artisan miners.

Michelle Goliath, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the UFS, made it her mission to bring women from Kimberley in the Northern Cape to the fore in this sector to achieve economic emancipation.

This became possible thanks to Goliath’s passion for helping people who have run out of conventional employment options.

“My research includes ‘zamaism’ psychology, a philosophy which looks at the contestation of space and rules, how people navigate the illegal systems when they are faced with desperate choices,” she explains.

Goliath worked with about 3 000 diamond mining zama-zamas over three years.

Her focus included negotiating an agreement with the public-private mining sector to include zama-zamas as legal artisan miners in the formal mining economy.

This project had a big impact on Elisa Louw, a former street seller and domestic worker. Now serving as the chairperson of Women in Artisanal Scale Mining, she reveals she started working in the mines in 2013.

In 2014 she found her first 75-pointer diamond which she sold for R1 500 on the black market.

Later on Goliath recruited other zama-zamas to register and obtain legal permits for mining, paving the way to start a legal mining entity.

“It was a hard and difficult journey before getting permits early in 2017,” said Louw.

She said before that the mines took their IDs and issued them with eviction letters.

The turning point came after Goliath had a meeting with the police, the Department of Mineral Resources, the Sol Plaatje Municipality, and the international Swedish Housing Company. The meeting led to the issuing of a legal permit to the mine.

Louw says: “It was a difficult journey before given permits early in 2017. It was such a relief when we received the permit. It changed my life as a woman.”

The issuing of permits saw the Batho Pele Primary Mining Cooperative established in 2017, followed by the Women in Artisanal Scale Mining (WASM) in 2019.

Presently about 200 women are registered with WASM.

The two cooperatives have signed agreements with Canada and the USA for the export of fair-trade-certified gem products.

It changed my life as a woman – Elisa Louw, formerly an illegal miner who now works for a legal mining entity.

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