By Phyllia Ngoetje – MACUA WAMUA Advisory Office Legal Intern

 Violence of Being a Woman in and around Mining

In light of the recent release of the gender-based violence (GBV) bills, we felt that it would only be right to frame this blog post around the lived experiences of women who experience gender-based violence in mining affected communities.

Gender-based violence of course includes physical abuse, but we cannot make the mistake of thinking there aren’t other nuanced variations that must necessarily also be seen as violence. We cannot divorce GBV from subjugation, economic exclusion and systemic unresponsiveness from the state to the needs of women. Expanding our understanding of GBV in this way means admitting that capitalism, and the way in which mining companies and state mechanisms relate to women in mining-affected communities, remains colonial. The violence we speak of here is the systemic prevention of marginalised bodies from being able to participate in economic activity that gives them the freedom to self-determine.

The denial of economic freedom as violence

It is apparent that women are generally tasked with the burden of care. The social construction of masculinity and manhood was done so in opposition to femininity and womanhood; a construction that identifies men as breadwinners, and women as child-rearers and home makers.

The South African Minerals Act 50 of 1991[1] legally prohibited women from engaging in mining activities underground. At the time this was said to be because of the real danger and threat that would pose to their safety. We would argue (1) that it wasn’t the risk and safety concerns that drove the exclusion, as much as it was a means of limiting women’s rights and ability to self-determine, and that (2) it was a way for mining companies to avoid what they would consider ‘unnecessary expenditure’ with regards to providing sufficient and appropriate safety measures, training and developing specialised personal protective equipment PPE and work suits for women.

The Minerals Act was repealed, in favour of the Minerals and Petroleum Development Act 28 of 2002 and the South African Mining Charter[2] which, among other things, sought to address gender inequality in the mining sector. In these measures was a stipulation that mining companies must have women comprise 10% of their entire workforce by 2009. In 2017 women still only made up 10.9% of the entire workforce.[3]  On paper, this reform seems beneficial, but a common experience amongst women who live in communities surrounding mines is that of being told they need to perform sexual acts in exchange for a position.[4] This in itself must be seen as a form of violence experienced by women in and around the mining industry. This example makes it clear that legislative tools have little use in the realisation of meaningful transformation without enforcement and implementation.

When means of economic production are closed off to marginalised people it makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Politics of the stomach and the creation of dependency through denying women the inability to work effectively opens women up to variations of violation.

There’s a very big difference between representation and meaningful transformation. It’s a jarring realisation that mining companies, and more especially the state, do not care about women – their safety or ability to self-determine and self sustain. The number of women participating in the mineral industry has increased substantially, but this does not speak to the conditions under which women work. Incorporation into the industry does not take into account the need for substantive equality and transformation of the industry.

We need to ask ourselves whether stakeholders within the mining industry are willing to do the work of inclusivity. We need to ask ourselves what meaningful engagement and inclusion should look like. And we need to further think about the ways we can and will hold various institutions accountable to the promises they make. Are we going to perpetuate and actively participate in this exclusionary system which boasts faux transformation, but continues to devalue and lessen the voices of those in our community who are already voiceless?