Home » General » Poverty, Prostitution, Pilfering – It’s Survival of the Fittest in Mashava

A decade ago, Mashaba Mine was a hive of activity. It was the epitome of success. Mine workers lived a comfortable life and splurged their hard-earned cash on shopping sprees in nearby Masvingo town.

But that was to abruptly change when the government wrestled Shabanie Mashaba Mines (SMM) from business tycoon Mutumwa Mawere through a reconstruction order. The state alleged that the company was insolvent and indebted to the state and accused Mawere of externalising foreign currency. Mawere denied the accusation and launched a legal bid to recover his properties.

That marked the beginning of the miners’ misfortunes which were punctuated by boycotts, non-payment of salaries and the retrenchment of thousands of workers.

A recent visit to the place revealed that Mashaba, like most struggling mining towns, has become a ghost town. The mine workers are wallowing in abject poverty. Forgotten and abandoned, they wait for a solution that may never come.

An eerie silence hangs like an unseen force as one walks down the dusty streets that once bustled with life and activity.

Most shops have closed down while the few that remain are a sorry sight. The shopkeepers sit outside, basking in the sun because their empty shops have not been attracting any customers.

“Some days we record zero sales and we wonder how this is going to end. There are no customers and our businesses are hanging by the thread,” said Tecla Mutema who is a sales person at Balmain stores.

Tecla, who has been in the town for many years, can only reminisce about the good old times when the mine operated at full capacity.

“We are just waiting for the time when the owners will pack up and leave. It has been very difficult and we are struggling to stay afloat,” she said.

Thandolwenkosi Ncube, a former employee for N. Richards chain of stores and now operating a small shop, said life in the small town was now very hard.

“Many turned to gold panning when things nose-dived but currently there is not much gold left and people are getting very desperate,” he said.

Ncube said young men were now resorting to stealing and his shop had been broken into recently.

“The thieves failed to get away with anything because of the burglar bars,” he said.

Prostitution has also taken root and the few bars that are dotted around the town have become popular spots for men.

The business however is not as lucrative and the flesh peddlers have been forced to charge very low fees for their services.

“They charge as little as a dollar that is how desperate the situation is,” Ncube said.

Women in their fifties have literally been reduced to beggars by day and sex workers by night. Forgotten by the rest of the country the mine workers struggle to make ends meet as they wait upon promises by the government to change their fortunes.

A few kilometres from the town centre is Chemberi compound. Overgrown with grass and showing signs of neglect, the houses are in desperate need of refurbishment.

The streets are empty and there is not much activity.

Former mine worker a Mrs Sibanda says she now survives on selling live chickens which she rears in her backyard.

She keeps the little chicks in an old steel bath tub.

“People do not pay cash and it takes them two months to pay off the US$7 that I charge for one bird,” she says.

Her occasional customers are students from Great Zimbabwe University campus but she is not happy with their conduct.

“They engage in immoral activities and even though they pay for the chickens, my heart bleeds as a mother,” said Sibanda.

She blames parents for sending their children to school without the necessary basic needs.

Her curious neighbours who had gathered to listen to the interview join in with their own tales of gloom.

“We have become very poor indeed. To supplement for our meagre income, we go to a farm commonly known as “kwaPeter” and enlist for food for work,” says Marian Chuma.

The women are given large pieces of land to till and are given a bucket of maize in return. It is quite a feat to complete the task and at times they spent two days working on that land.

“They count 85 strides to measure the area to be tilled in return for a bucketful of maize,” she said.

The women who inevitably find humour in their miserable lives say they also make reed mats which they sell for US$2.

“Collecting the reeds is a difficult task. We get bitten by mosquitoes and our bodies are ridden with scars from the bite marks,” Chuma said.

The mats are bought in bulk by cross border traders who take them for resale across the border.

“For six reed mats they give us three bars of soap and 15 will get you a two litre bottle of cooking oil,” said another woman who works at the nearby King Mine.

Chuma says at some point they cleaned other people’s houses for a bowl of mealie-meal.

“We are not ashamed of what we do. We just want to survive and be able to send our children to school. The mine does not pay us salaries but allowances that sometimes come after three months,” she said.

Back in the good old days mine workers’ children were ferried to school by bus and the workers were paid twice per month.

That is now all but a fairy tale since Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) took over curatorship of SMM.

A few kilometres away are other compounds referred to as villages for the lowly paid. Village 3 has no electricity and looks like a dumping area.

The old houses are coated with grime and barefoot toddlers run around the squalid dwellings that are depressingly run down. Dirty, torn curtains that adorn most windows amplify the level of poverty in the area.

Young women, no more than 20 years of age have more than one child, are single and unemployed.

Asked how they survive they become evasive but an elderly man whispers that they work at the bars at night where they peddle their flesh.

“Am sure you know what I mean,” he said with a naughty wink.

Suspicious looking youths with bandanas tied around their heads loiter around the streets with clearly nothing to do. A few who would have struck gold in their panning activities in pine forests, go to the local mine club, which looks just as dilapidated as the houses. There they drown their sorrows in beer and for a few hours, forget their troubles.

The situation is the same at a nearby gold mine called Lennox. The workers are poorly paid, getting as little as US$10 per week.

The workers are grateful that the ministry of education passed a resolution that no child would be chased away from school for failing to pay school fees.

“But debt collectors are hot on our heels and we are constantly afraid that we might lose our property,” said Bishion Banda who works at Lennox mine.

The workers however have not given up and are pinning their hopes on the resuscitation of the mines. Recently the deputy minister of mines Fred Moyo said that efforts to revive SMM were at an aanced stage and that the two asbestos mines would commence operations by end of year.

SMM used to produce an estimated 200 000 tonnes of asbestos fibre every year. When the company closed it left close to 3 000 workers jobless.

Source : Zimbabwe Standard