Remembering women’s struggles against destructive mining
. . . widows of Kamandama mine disaster victims petition government over demand compensation
In 1972, disaster struck the coal mining town of Hwange killing 427 workers following an underground explosion at the No.2 Colliery, also known as Kamandama Mine which was part of the Hwange Colliery Company Limited.
Killed during the disaster were men who left behind their families – wives and children – who depended on them. 47 years later, the widows of the victims of the Kamandama mine disaster live in neglect and abject poverty.
Following the death of their husbands, the widows were forced out of colliery houses to pave way for new workers and their families. Many who had no relatives in town moved to rural areas in Jambezi, Makwa and Milonga communal lands.
At the commemorations to remember women’s struggles against destructive mining, convened by Centre for Natural Resource Governance and Greater Hwange Residents Trust, with the support from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, the surviving widows said they are only remembered once per year, in June, when the mining town will be commemorating the Kamandama mine disaster.
“I think no one remembers us throughout the year. The company and government only remember us in June. That is when they give us small groceries,” one widow Anna Phiri said.
Another widow, Regina Sibanda said their population has dwindled as most widows have died due to lack of access to better health care and starvation.
“Not many of us are left now. The majority have died. We hear sad stories of how our fellows die as a result of failure to access better healthcare. Since the death of our husbands, life has been difficult. We had medical aid when they were working, but that ended with the tragedy,” she said adding that it would have been better if the company considered resuscitating their medical aid benefits considering that their husbands died in line of duty.
The widows said before independence, the company used to give them living allowances and the payment continued for a short time after independence before being stopped.
“We got monthly living allowances for a few years after independence and then payments were discontinued. Hwange Colliery Company Limited started looking for us in 2007. Right now we are getting $50 per month and we are told it’s from NSSA,” said Grace Mwene.
The widows called on the government and Hwange Colliery Company to compensate them and also ensure they get improved access to health care.
Following the Kamandama disaster, the Rhodesian government’s President Clifford Dupont set up the Wankie Disaster Relief Fund. However, Hwange Colliery Company Limited could not explain the status of the relief fund when asked for a comment by CNRG.
The widows said as a precondition to benefit from the relief fund, they were not allowed to re-marry and as a result, the majority of them remained single.
“The conditions of the relief fund did not allow us to re-marry. Those who re-married were struck off even though they had children with the mine disaster victims,” said Estelle Ndlovu adding that in some instances, if there were rumours that one is dating another man, the colonial administrators at the mine would call the widow for interrogation.
The widows wrote a petition to be presented to the Hwange Colliery Company Limited, Parliament of Zimbabwe, the Gender Commission and the President of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa asking for compensation for the loss of their husbands and health insurance.
Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) calls on the government of Zimbabwe which is the majority shareholder in Hwange Colliery Company Limited to compensate the widows of Kamandama Mine disaster victims. These men died working for the country and are in a way, Zimbabwe’s economic heroes. The company and government also have to consider providing decent housing in the villages for the surviving spouses who were forced out of company houses following the death of their husbands