Rutted roads, dirty vendors and badly dressed housewives cooking on open fires and gossiping mark Cherima, a dormitory township for mineworkers at the Implats/Aquarius joint venture Mimosa mine in the south Midlands province of Zimbabwe. Across the road is Platinum Park, an exclusive suburb where the mine’s top management live. Here, you will find tarred roads with no potholes, well-lit at night and properly signposted with fancy names like Nickel and Palladium Drive. The latest SUVs flash by, driven by housewives in tight labelled jeans and mini-skirts as they make leisurely afternoon rounds to relieve the stress of high life and chat with neighbours or go shopping, drinking imported mineral water as security guards in new uniforms keep a close eye on them.
If this view of the disparities in earnings and living standards between mine workers and their bosses is shockingly disconcerting, wait till you delve into the townships and rural villages that surround Mimosa mine, whose product creates fabulous jewellery that adorns the fingers of the rich people of the world, if not being used in the luxury cars they drive.
In nearby Mandava township, youths sit idly taking cough mixture, a cheap but potent intoxicant, drinking beer or smoking marijuana. Women adorned in skimpy clothes make their rounds, looking for off-duty platinum miners to sell their bodies to.
“The mine does not employ women underground, so I couldn’t get a job there,” says Nancy, an unemployed engineering graduate from a local university who now works as a high-class hooker and was found sipping expensive ciders at the Platinum club in the company of a much older and married Mimosa mine top executives.
This is what distresses the locals. Many of them are educated but cannot get into platinum mining because of the syndicates that operate there, and blatant corruption which leads mine bosses to employ only their relatives, ‘homeboys’ and those who pay bribes.
In the villages around the platinum mine, men in muddy clothes scour the ground, hunting for gold without state permits. It is a frustrating experience, as Nhamo Mukombe tells us.
“Half the time we are running away fom the police or fighting with other ‘gwejas’ for space to work,” said Mukombe, who was working with a machete strapped to his belt. “If anyone tries to take my hole I’ll kill them.”
Mukombe said he had no choice but to engage in the dangerous and illegal gold panning because the safer job he had once been offered at the platinum mine was not paying.
“The only job that I ever got at the mine was as a common labourer, even though I am a qualified mining engineer. They told me that I should start at the bottom and work my way up but what frustrated me is that the system is confused. Uneducated and inexperienced people who are well-connected to senior managers are given jobs about which they have no clue and are then sponsored to go to the school of mines. Qualified local people like us are considered a threat,” Mukombe said, wiping sweat.
The government has set up so-called community share schemes to make the locals befit from platinum mining but these are riddled with corruption. Millions of dollars poured into the schemes have been looted by the government and the ruling party. The little that trickles to the local community has been used to bribe local chiefs.
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