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Moments with female panners

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Unemployed, divorced and widowed women in Zimbabwe trying to survive in economic difficulties which have lasted for more than a decade have taken to unlicensed prospecting of gold and other minerals along the Great Dyke.

As illegal alluvial gold panning remains a thorny issue for the country, women are increasingly panning for gold in the small mining town of Shurugwi, 20km away from Gweru.

NewsDay caught up with Sara Munaki who lost her husband in 2009 and is taking care of her two daughters, Sandra (6) and Susan (4).

Munaki toils in her torn dress spattered with dirt as she goes beneath to dig gold in the area of Mashumba Close.

“We sneak onto farms and rivers at night and use wheelbarrows and sacks to cart away the rocks which we hope will be gold bearing to the millers who pound the ore and extract gold,” said Munaki.

Among women who work in syndicate with Munaki is Mercy Chindowe, a landless, widowed mother of three who has been panning for the last five years since she moved from Gweru urban to Shurugwi, Netsai Nyarota, a divorced mother of one child as well as Rutendo Chipare (not her real name) who is 22-years-old and not yet married.

“We all attend the same church with my working colleagues that’s why we decided to work together so that we are able to take care of our children as well as ourselves,” added Munaki as she teaches this reporter how to collect the gold ore.

“I earn a paltry $18 when I visit the claims but a good day will yield $20-25.”

These women also engage in associated economic activities such as, selling food, fruits, vegetables, clothes, knitting jerseys and managing tuckshops and shebeens as well as brewing local beer.

“We leave our children in other people’s care or take them along to sit by these pits,” pointed Munaki.

Not surprisingly, women continue to join Zimbabwe’s gold rush despite the dangers collapsing shafts, unhygienic sanitary conditions, crowded squatter settlements as this provides the much-needed income they can not find elsewhere.

In the area of Shurugwi, gold panning has caused deforestation and siltation resulting in severe environmental damage.

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