For almost two weeks now, workers of Arcturus Mine, one of the five active mines in the country owned by Metallon Gold Zimbabwe, the largest gold producer, have been on strike, demanding back-dated pay, as a condition to returning to work.
The strike was triggered by the wives of the workers, who said the burden of their husbands’ lack of income was impacting them and their children. Numbering about 300, the wives initially started with protests outside the mine, and were later joined by their husbands. The employees agreed to stop working until they received their salaries.
One of the disgruntled workers, who did not want to be named, said he and his more than 400 colleagues have outstanding pay dating back to 2014. He described how the wives got involved.
“At the Arcturus Mine, people were upset,” the unnamed miner said, speaking in Shona. “The women were in the forefront because their husbands are dying of hunger because it has been many years since we have had our pay,” he said.
“The wives blocked the gates and declared none of the husbands are going (to work),” he said.
The workers, who accused Metallon Gold Zimbabwe officials of living large while they struggled to make ends meet, said they do not plan to return to work, despite written warnings from the company for them to return to work or face some unspecified action.
The miners claimed that currently they only receive about $50 a month, which they said is not enough to cover various expenses. He said the action of their wives revealed the extent of the stress caused by the lack of pay.
“We have (a) backlog from 2014 and we have been working hard,” he said. “And when we go to our homes, there is no peace … We are hungry and our children are not going to school,” he said, suggesting that Metallon should close the mine if they are unable to pay for them.
Metallon’s corporate affairs executive, Zenzo Nsimbi, denied that the company paid the employees only $50 as they claimed.
“I don’t think it’s correct to say they are getting $50,” Nsimbi challenged. “They are getting on average around $300 a month.”
Nsimbi acknowledged that there have been problems with payment in the past, but said that has since been resolved.
"The only amount that is outstanding are the monies that were accumulated when the mine was shut down. In terms of current payment, they have been paid up to date, that is January, 2016," clarified Nsimbi.
Nsimbi further said workers’ claims that their children are missing school or that they are failing to access healthcare, are false, as the company takes care of that, as well as the workers’ accommodation.
“They are provided with free housing, they are provided with free electricity, free water and free schooling for their children,” explained Nsimbi, clarifying that they only pay for primary and secondary education, but not university.
Some of the wives that spoke to Studio 7, however, disputed what Nsimbi said, and insisted that they pay for their children’s school fees from their pockets.
Asked if workers were aware of the benefits Metallon provided, Nsimbi, who used to be Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Botswana in early 2000, replied in the affirmative.
“They do know, yes. The mines hold what it calls workers’ council. Workers’ council is composed of workers’ representatives and management,” Nsimbi explained and elaborated that the council facilitates discussion between the groups.
Nsimbi, also a former deputy minister of mines, expressed sympathy for the company’s workers, and said while he sympathized with their predicament, staying away from work will not promote a sustainable mining environment or get them their salaries.
He further explained that they mining industry is struggling due to the decline in gold production.
Nsimbi said gold accounts for nearly 15% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
“To our employees we say look, we sympathize with the situation and it’s not the mines’ making. It is the environment and where it is,” the former ambassador explained.
“However let’s try and bring our energies, efforts and together go back to work. The company is committed once the mine is profitable; but at the moment the mine is not meeting its targets; it’s making a loss. Without meeting its targets the mine cannot pay its salaries.”
Despite the challenges outlined by Nsimbi at Arcturus Mine, in his 2016 budget proposal, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa painted a brighter picture of the industries’ performance, saying, “government support for gold beneficiation is yielding desired results.”
In the same 2016 budget proposal, Chinamasa also projected an overall increase in gold production from all producers and that the mining sector would rebound, growing by 2.4%, on the back of planned investments, and largely driven by strong performance of gold, chrome, coal, nickel, platinum and diamonds.
Chinamasa said Zimbabwe’s mining industry’s stronger growth position would be achieved against intensifying constraints such as “depressed international mineral prices, falling demand in export markets, financing, as well as power shortages.”
Apart from Arcturus mines, Metallon Gold Zimbabwe also owns How Mine, its flagship low-cost mining operation in Matabeleland South, Shamva Mine, an underground mining plant in Mashonaland province, Mazowe Mine, a high-grade, underground gold mining operation in Mashonaland Central, and Redwing Mine in Manicaland province.
“How Mine and Shamva are the main producing mines, with How Mine producing approximately half of Metallon’s gold, Shamva coming second, Mazowe is producing, Arcturus has been producing until Friday,” said Nsimbi, referring to the start of the worker’s strike nearly two weeks ago.