VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
SYLVIA Bubala Mang’ola is a 46-year old artisanal miner in Siavonga district.
Single but with the huge responsibility of taking care of her siblings and other relatives, she ventured into artisanal mining to meet the needs of her family.
“I was into fashion designing and interior decoration, but I did not have the kind of market to have a breakthrough. That’s how I stopped the fashion business and now I am in full-time mining,” Ms Mang’ola said.
When Ms Mang’ola started fashion designing, she saw it as a lucrative business, therefore her aim was to become one of the biggest designers in Zambia.
However, when the business failed to pay her bills and put food on her table, she opted for a change of career.
She says the fashion industry faces great competition from relatively cheaper Chinese costumes.
“I decided to look for something well-paying that would bring in money in thousands” she recalls.
The desperation she saw in people who needed good building materials is what motivated her to enter the male-dominated mining sector.
Prompted by her instincts, Ms Mang’ola opted to start dealing in development minerals, and she just knew it that she would hit her goal.
Development minerals refer to materials and minerals that are considered low-value minerals such as granite, gravel and sand – and are mined, processed, manufactured and used locally in such industries as construction, manufacturing and agriculture.
When she came across a shiny flat stone somewhere in Siavonga three years ago, that marked the beginning of her mining business. Now Ms Mang’ola cuts and polishes stones into tiles.
She obtained a mining licence in September 2014 and started the actual mining two months later. Actually she has two mining licences; one in small scale mining prospecting and another in artisanal mining.
The prospecting mining licence allows one to look for materials underground, while the artisan license is for actual mining.
Ms Mang’ola mines sandy flat stones commonly known as Siavonga stone tiles, black granite, green flat stones, quarry crushing stone which is graded number one by geologists in the Ministry of Mines.
She is also involved in the crushing of stones that are used to make blocks and further, mines granite used for making kitchen units and tomb stones.
Her mine sits on a four kilometre square land under Chief Sikongo’s area. With no mining equipment to talk about, Ms Mang’ola and her 12 workers depend on small tools such as hammers, grinders and a table cutting machine.
She owns a small truck which helps her to transport stones from the pit to the factory.
“I am able to make good money from individual customers, but my target is to graduate and become a supplier to commercial construction companies,” Ms Mang’ola says.
Currently, she supplies 50 to 100 square metres of stone tiles while production is as low as 25 squares metres daily. On a good day, it goes to 50 meter squares.
To upscale her profit margin, she needs modern equipment to raise production to 150 square metres per day.
As a member of the Association of Women in Mining (AWM), Ms Mang’ola has been trained in mine management.
On site, she is not just a boss, she does the actual mining with her workers.
“Mining stones is a very hard business, but I really enjoy it. I get really tired, but I always look forward to what I will get out of the ground whenever we are mining. So it gives me motivation,” she says.
The trade needs endurance, resilience and dedication.
“Sometimes I get bitten by snakes but I do not mind because I know that out of the pain and sweat will come sweet and honey through the money that I will make,” she says.
The business is sometimes prone to occupational hazards and the workers have occasionally been injured, but none of the incidents have been fatal.
The biggest threat to the workers’ safety comes from wildlife because the mine is located in the bush.
Ms Mang’ola feels Government needs to do something to support women involved in artisanal and small-scale mining by making it easier for them to acquire concessions.
At the moment, the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development has been providing extension services to small-scale miners like Ms Mang’ola. So far, officers from the ministry have visited her mine on a number of occasions.
In addition, Government through partners such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting small-scale miners through training programmes.
The UNDP is implementing a €13.1 million capacity building programme co-funded by the European Union (EU) and African Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) Group of State that aims to boost small-scales mining.
Ms Mang’ola has taken advantage of this opportunity to build the capacity of her mine through training. Two of her employees have since been trained under the UNDP cobblestone programme.
At a media workshop recently held in Chisamba by UNDP-ACP-EU it was heard that the mining of development minerals has important implications for sustainable development. However, the sector has been receiving inadequate attention, making it difficult to transform livelihoods.
ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme coordinator Lyapa Manza said development minerals provide crucial inputs for domestic economic development and have the potential to grow domestic incomes.
Having women like Ms Mang’ola educated and trained is likely to increase the quantity and quality of production, and therefore trigger spill over benefits in the communities and eventually the nation.
Most women miners in Zambia are artisanal and small scale miners (ASM), which a global report describes as “mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanisation often in the informal/illegal sector of the market”.
AWM chairperson Mary Lubemba says women miners are not able to compete favourably with their counterparts in other countries because they lack modern mining equipment.
“Most women in mining have a problem to access funds due to strict terms of lending by micro financing companies or banks,” Ms Lubemba says.
Nevertheless, Government recently indicated its commitment to build the capacity of small scale miners.
President Edgar Lungu, in his address to Parliament on September 15, 2017, said Government will continue with the implementation of development mineral capacity programme.
“Over 70 small scale minerals have since undergone a trainer of trainers programme in geology, mining, processing, environment, safety, value addition, quarry management and human rights,” President Lungu said.
It is hoped through such programmes, small-scale miners like Ms Mang’ola will be able to access funds to mechanise their mining and increase production.