Mine closure leads to child labour

The closure of Mashava mine has claimed some silent and vulnerable victims – children.

Child labour has become the norm in the small mining town of Mashava as former mine-workers’ children carry out manual chores for meagre payouts to supplement their parents’ income.

Investigations by The Zimbabwean revealed that children as young as nine were tilling the fields in the neighboring resettlement farms, cutting and selling firewood, selling sweets and doing other odd jobs.

Mashava is a small mining town in Masvingo province, 40km from the provincial city, which was well known for the production of asbestos. Mashava had three mines –Gath’s Mine, King and Temeraire. Only King is still operating, and at a very low level.

The government controversially seized SMM from Zimbabwean businessman Mutumwa Mawere in 2009 after he was accused of externalising foreign currency. The mines were put under curatorship.

While Mashava mine was still operating, schools in the area catered mainly for mine-workers at a subsidised rate and housing was free. There were clinics at Temeraire and King and a major mine hospital at Gaths.

The closures were a disaster for the area. Salaries stopped and most who were laid off are still to receive their redundancy pay.

Parents who talked to The Zimbabwean called on the government to urgently intervene and ensure the reopening of the mine.

“The level of poverty since the closure of the mine has drastically increased. Most of our husbands have relocated to neighbouring countries, such as South Africa and Botswana, in search of greener pastures that are proving not to be green after all. This has left the remaining parents with no option but to team up with their children to raise money,” said Chipo Chirwa of Gaths.

In a nearby resettlement farming area called kwaPeter, 13-year-old TM has been doing manual jobs since she was 10 years old.

“I started cutting and selling firewood and also tilling the fields. Life is not rosy for my mother after my father – a former worker at the mine – walked out of the family due to economic challenges,” she said.

“While my mother sels fruits and vegetables in Gaths Mine’s Chemberi compound, I’m busy with some of my friends cutting and selling firewood or doing other manual work to contribute to the family income. I earn about $10 a week. For tilling the fields, I’m given a bucket of maize meal or sorghum.”

Gaths is close to Muzhwi dam and many of the children fish there.

Twelve-year-old LM has stopped going to school and spends his days fishing instead.

“Since the mine closed, we have become very poor. I team up with my father, who is now a full-time fisherman. My mother sells the fish we catch.”

Scores of young girls, together with their mothers, sisters and older girls, gather the elephant grass that is common in the area, weave it into brooms and sell these in the residential areas.

School attendance, parents say, has dropped as the children have to think of survival rather than their future prospects.

A primary teacher at King said children’s performance had declined in recent years.

“When all was well at the mine, we had excellent passes. Now, children’s concentration is compromised by the need to fend for their families. The pass rate at our school has plummeted,” she said.Commenting on the plight of the children, local councillor Anna Mose called on the government to urgently work towards the reopening of the mine.

“The only solution lies in the government reopening Shabanie and Mashava Mines so that families can live normal lives,” said Mose.

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