Nomsa, her sixteen month old son Nathi and I met early one morning at the entrance to the open cast mine in Mafuyana, Southern Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Nathi safely secured on her back, a shovel in one hand and a plastic bag with bread and water in the other, Nomsa hurried me along: “We must walk quickly, the earlier I start working, the earlier I can knock-off. This little one gets irritated when hungry, plus he has a bit of flu in this cold”. We walked briskly through the maze of thorny acacia and mopane bush for about thirty minutes—some three kilometres. Despite the absence of trails, Nomsa navigated the landscape well. We passed several abandoned deep vertical shaft gold mines before we arrived at the open cast mine pits where she worked with two other women, extracting ore. She sat Nathi down in the shade and began work, digging the rocky ore from one side, piling it on the other. Intermittently, she breastfed Nathi, usually when he became irritable. The women worked hard, pausing only for tea until mid-afternoon, when they packed up and we returned to Maphisa, the new development zone where they lived.
Nomsa lived in a single room shared with her husband and two children. The room was dim; there were no curtains or lights. The small room was crammed with a double bed, a chipped wooden wardrobe, and a kitchen unit. The floor was cemented concrete, uneven, unrefined and dusty. Nomsa’s room was part of a larger housing unit that comprising a toilet and kitchen (without either water or electricity) and a bedroom on either side.
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