MARIKANA, South Africa- On February 6, 2012 Pinky Mosiane, 27, was raped and murdered hundreds of feet underground. She was in the Anglo Platinum mineshaft in Marikana, South Africa, where she worked and it took over two years for a suspect to be apprehended. Mosiane was not the first woman to be raped while working in a mine, but it was the first time such a story gained so much attention.
In August 2012, in the Lonmin mine in Marikana, police killed 34 striking mine workers. This event brought to light many of the hazardous conditions that mine workers face around the world. In addition to those dangers that are inherent in mining, women who work in mines experience additional hardships that have largely gone unaddressed by mining companies, according to workers.
‘Anne,’ who requested her real name not be used, has worked in mines for three years. She told Al Jazeera, “After [the end of the work day]at midday, we have to wait till 3:30 p.m. in the waiting area for the lift to take us back to the surface. Some days, it was me alone with 12 men.”
She says that there are days in the mines where there can be five women and 65 men present in the waiting area.
The South African Mining Charter requires that mining companies meet a 10 percent quota of female employees, but many do not meet this quota, including Anne’s mine which is only eight percent women.
Anne explains if a woman were raped in the mines, she would likely not report the crime to an authority for fear she could lose her job.
She rhetorically wonders, “…how many women were raped underground? There are only two toilets in the section…For 70 workers. But it’s so far to walk and it’s dark, dark, dark. Even if you scream, no-one is going to hear you.”
Tiny Magija, coordinator of the Justice for Pinky Mosiane Campaign, asserts that mining companies know about the sexual harassment and abuse that occurs, but they are refusing to address these issues.
She explains, “Research has shown that gender-based violence in mining is very rife. The [gender]quota has always been there, but it hasn’t been implemented and no-one is voicing an opinion about it, till it’s at the point where abuse is happening every day.”
She continues, “Women in the mining industry are seen as sex objects… The companies don’t care about sexually based violence. If they did, then why is it taking them so long to actually do anything?”
Magija explains that a major issue surrounding sexual assault in mines is that perpetrators are often those in positions of power. She points to Mosiane’s case where the arrested suspect is an occupational health safety officer at the mine.
Gender-based abuse in the mines also takes the form of male employees expecting sex from female subordinates. Female miners report that they have to sell sex to gain promotions or have their grievances listened to.
“Connie,” another mine worker, left the mines in 2008 after an injury but remembers the treatment she received when she first started working at Lonmin. While applying for the job, men asked her for sex, but she refused.
“Women are treated very unfairly in this job,” Connie laments. “If you want a better position, you have to bribe or sleep with the bosses, even the ones in HR. Women who won’t do it, who try to stand their ground, get dismissed.”
University of Witwatersrand sociologist Asanda Benya, who spent time in mines for research purposes, explains that sexual harassment and abuse has been normalized underground. Women have learned to accept this treatment as part of working in the mines, and companies have gotten away with ignoring the problem.
Benya explains that HR departments tend to be unresponsive to women’s accusations, and even sometimes minimize the event, saying that “it’s not harassment, they are appreciating you—that’s how it is in mining.”
High unemployment rates in Marikana leave both men and women with few options outside of going underground in the mines.
Anne laments, “Women have no choice but to do this work. Life is difficult. Who can help you? I don’t know. There is no one to tell about my problems. And I can’t trust anyone…”
– Kaylie Cordingley