Not yet Uhuru for Kamandama widows, 48 years on
June 6 marks a painful reminder of the destructive and impoverishing nature of mining. On this day in 1972, a total of 472 men perished following an underground explosion at Hwange Colliery Company Limited. The tragedy, now known as the Kamandama mine disaster remains the epitome of negligence and disregard of the health and safety of mine workers and their families in Zimbabwe.
The majority of men who perished in the disaster left young wives with an increased burden of raising families alone. These women had already been tendering unpaid work which sustained the company by ensuring that their husbands and children were taken care of. The unpaid role of women which included the reproduction of mine labour force enabled their husbands to engage in paid work, which however was to end their lives, leaving the women as sole bread winners.
Following the disaster, the widows of the victims were evicted from colliery houses to pave way for new workers and their families. As a result, many of them trekked back to areas like Jambezi, Makwa and Milonga communal lands which they had left when their husbands were engaged by the mine. However, Hwange Colliery Company Limited has neglected the widows left by the victims of the Kamandama Mine disaster and only remembers them once a year, on June 6 during the time for the commemoration. The company spends thousands of dollars organising a commemoration where they speechify, feed the widows for a day and lay the wreath for optics.
The widows never received compensation for the death of their husbands despite the fact that they died in line of duty and that other widows who were not blacks received compensation. An example is that of Michelle Crystal’s mother who then received $21 00 which was enough to purchase a house in Harare. The discrimination in payment of compensation as shown by the classes of women that received the compensation shows that racism was rampant in colonial Rhodesia. However, we are now in independent Zimbabwe and the government has continued to neglect the widows.
On June 6 2017, during Kamandama Mine Disaster Commemorations, then Hwange Colliery Company Limited Managing Director, Thomas Makore said the company is indebted to look after the Kamandama widows and their families as pure religion says “it is good to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and taking care of them.” However, the company has done nothing to sustainably lift the widows out of the poverty created by the loss of their husbands. Development projects promised by the company for the widows have not been implemented.
Section 76 (1) of the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe asserts that; “every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to have access to basic health-care services, including reproductive health-care services.” The widows have been unable to access medical care since the death of their husbands. The company stopped taking care of their healthcare needs when their husbands died and at a Kamanadama commemoration organized by CNRG in July 2019 the remaining widows said a significant number of their colleagues had died due to starvation and lack of healthcare. Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) calls on HCCL to offer free healthcare to these widows.
CNRG therefore calls on:
- HCCL to deliver justice and compensate Kamandama mine disaster black widows.
- HCCL to deliver on its promises to provide livelihood support to the widows.
- HCCL build decent houses for the widows at their rural homes.
- HCCL to provide medical cover to the widows.
- Parliament of Zimbabwe to protect the rights and dignity of the Kamandama widows and ensure that the social role played by women in the extractive sector is insured.