Mining discontent: How women miners are raped, and become sex skivvies to get ahead

In 2012 South Africans were introduced to the story of Binky Mosiane, a young mother, daughter and miner who was found lying in a pool of blood with a used condom next to her lifeless body.

She had been attacked during her underground shift at Anglo Platinum’s Khomanani mine in the North West Province on February 6 2012. Her family’s sole breadwinner, she died at the age of 27.

Like many of the women who make up 10% of the workforce in South African mines, she was powerless to defend herself in this male-dominated industry.

Prior to 2002, an underground mine shaft was no place for a woman. Then the South African Mining Charter introduced a clause stipulating that female miners need to make up at least 10% of a mine’s staff, lifting the previous ban.

Women now have a place in a labour-intensive workplace with heavy machinery designed for muscle, and a rough industry is slowly getting to grips with their presence underground.


Women still face practical challenges and safety issues on a daily basis, such as verbal harassment and physical abuse in the form of rape, which either goes unreported or, as in Mosiane’s case, results in death.

The safety of female mineworkers is a growing concern and requires a shift in policy and legislation to protect them, says Sanki Molefe, a female miner and head of the Rustenburg women’s structure of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

In some instances, women in mining have to perform sexual favours to get promoted and those who refuse fall victim to sexual harassment, Molefe claimed in a recent interview with radio station SAfm.

“We are mindful that women are exposed to harassment and abuse from their male counterparts due to patriarchal tendencies,” Molefe said.

Female miners under siege
In March 2015 a female miner at Rustenburg’s Thembelani Mine, owned by Anglo Platinum, was attacked and raped by a suspected illegal miner in the women’s changing rooms while taking a shower. The attack took place at about 4am during her morning shift with a security guard on the premises, it was reported.

This case and that of Mosiane, who was killed while working in an underground shift alongside 13 male mineworkers, are just two of the rape incidents reported by South Africa’s female miners. The rest are either gathering dust somewhere in a police station filing cabinet, or go unreported by women for fear of losing their jobs or being discriminated against and stigmatised as rape survivors.

In November 2015 the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand submitted evidence of gender-based violence in mines to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

“The phenomenon is occurring in part due to the regulation that requires 10% of all mineworkers to be female. This small percentage, however, means that women are a minority of underground workers and, as such, are extremely vulnerable to sexual violence,” the centre said.

“But it is not only the regulations that are the cause of this harm; contributing factors include gender norms in mining, lack of security and a lack of policies around gender-based violence in mining or the implementation thereof. In some instances, mines will pair women together as a form of security; however, the homogenous makeup of the male-dominated mining industry makes a mockery of this pairing.”

The centre had partnered with the South African Medical Research Council, as part of a project commissioned by the National Prosecuting Authority, to study the prosecution and adjudication of rape matters reported to the police.

The council found that only one in nine women who were raped report it to the police. In a 2008 study titled Tracking Justice: The Attrition of Rape Cases through the Criminal Justice System in Gauteng it reported that only 50.5% of the 2 064 cases of rape looked at during the study resulted in the arrest of the rapist.

“Only 42.8% of perpetrators were charged in court, and trials commenced in less than one in five cases. The conviction rate, which includes lesser crimes than rape, was at 6.2% [one in 20 cases],” says the report.

Mosiane’s case followed this trend: a suspect was only arrested more than 18 months after her death. Workers’ World Media Production, which agitates for workers’ rights, was among the organisations that tried to get justice for her.

“We heard about Binky’s story from our labour community forums and sent someone to the police station to check on the status of the case,” said Dibuseng Phaloane, a field worker at the production house which, she says, “aims to expose the ineffectiveness of the police and the National Prosecuting Authority in ensuring justice for women”.

Said Phaloane: “The police officer at the station said that Binky’s death was part of a sex scandal.” There were rumours of women miners performing sexual favours to get men to work on their behalf so as not to “slow down” the team and affect their performance bonuses, leading some to speculate that this is why the police did not give the case as much attention as they should have.

Workers’ World organised marches and awareness campaigns. Headway was finally made in the case in October 2013, when suspect Tutu Rooi Oliphant was arrested.

According to media reports, the case was postponed four times before Oliphant was convicted of raping and killing Mosiane on November 28 2014, and was sentenced to 50 years in jail. He is serving an additional 25 years for previously raping a five-year-old girl.

The mine also provided financial compensation to Mosiane’s family following her death in the workplace.

Unlearning centuries of sexism
Women in mining had been “thrown underground haphazardly into work teams where you find one woman for every 10 men there. There was a lot of room for mischief,” said David van Wyk, a lead researcher at the Bench Marks Foundation, in a January 2014 interview.

Women have told the foundation, which monitors corporate social responsibility, that the challenges they experience underground range from unsuitable overalls and tools to being reduced to “skivvies” and performing sexual favours to advance professionally.

“What happens at the end of the month is if the woman wants to increase her income, she becomes involved in sex trade,” Van Wyk said.

It seems that even the death of Mosiane has done little to improve working conditions for women in the sector, according to Phaloane. She said there still needed to be a shift in policy, as well as laws designed to protect women in mining.

For instance, she said, the machinery and tools that are used in the mines are designed to suit the physiques of men, not women. “Even the overalls and the protective equipment are designed for men, and are not comfortable or practical for women. There’s also the issue of toilet facilities underground, which are shared.”

NUM’s Molefe believes that, even though there is still a lot to be done, the wheels are slowly turning for the better. She said that protective gear has been revised to suit the build of women and separate toilet facilities are provided underground in some mines.

“After the Binky Mosiane case there was a directive from the minister of mineral resources to say that no woman or any individual is allowed to work alone [at a mine], especially in isolated areas,” Molefe said.

Bring men into the conversation
If South Africa is to deal with gender-based violence effectively, it is generally agreed that men need to join the conversation.

Sonke Gender Justice works with men through educational programmes and workshops to help deconstruct traditional male views of women.

“We look at gender norms transformation, how to change how men view women and how men understand manhood, often associated with being strong and taking risks,” said Patrick Godana, spokesperson for the MenCare programme at Sonke Gender Justice.

“There is a belief that we own women and we talk to them as children, using terms such as mntwana [baby]. Language on its own shapes understanding,” he said.

“How do we look at women as colleagues; how do we change behaviours? Because no one is born violent – violence is learned behaviour that can be unlearned.”

He said it was just a small percentage of men who are messing up the image of men.

Through this programme, Sonke exposes men to care work in the health and social development sectors, which includes working with children and women to change the cultural constructs as relating to the roles of men and women. It is attempting to create an understanding that women and men can coexist peacefully, and that women are not the property of men.

Tackling the beast, part 1: ‘Hold mines accountable’
So, what can be done for all female miners to feel safe?

According to the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, gender-based violence underground is not just a criminal justice matter but one for which mining companies should take responsibility.

In its submission to the UN, the centre said that South Africa’s constitutional regime “applies to both the state and juristic entities such as mining companies”.

The submission covered various manifestations of violence against women in South Africa. This included a study that looked into sexual violence in schools and gender-based violence in mines, as well as what it termed state-sanctioned violence.

The centre said there are two legal mechanisms that could trigger the liability of mining companies for violations, but these need to be tested in the hope that they would lead to legislative provisions to force multinational corporations to prevent sexual violence underground.

Tackling the beast, part 2: What the government is doing
Asked what it was doing to ensure the health and safety of women in mines, the department of mineral resources said that it administers the Mine Health and Safety Act, “which provides for the protection of the health and safety of all employees and other persons at mines”.

“Historically, the South African mining industry has been a male-dominated sector and the employment of women is relatively new. The Constitution recognises gender equality as the cornerstone of South Africa’s democracy.”

Incidents of sexual harassment and ill-treatment of women underground were a serious concern, the department said. “To this end, personal protective equipment for women has been developed, as well as regular educational and awareness campaigns at mines on safety and security and sexual harassment.

“It is the responsibility of all in the industry to work towards changing perceptions of the industry as being for men only. The legislation governing health and safety is being strengthened to ensure that the safety of women is adequately addressed.”

The department said that a health and safety summit later this year would “identify areas for improvement in terms of the health and safety of women”.

Tackling the beast, part 3: What the industry is doing
Chamber of Mines spokesperson Charmane Russell said the South African mining industry was committed to ensuring that women are safe in their jobs – in particular, those working underground.

She said that South African women in general were vulnerable to sexual violence and that “we understand that this is even more a threat for women working on mines, where gender representation is still far from normalised, where possibly one or two women work among several hundred men.

“While the industry actively recruits women to work in all areas of mining operations, it would be failing in its duty of care towards employees if it did not ensure that they enter jobs where they are safe. This is an area that the Chamber of Mines has spent a lot of time investigating, and developing recommendations for.”

Russell said that, as a result of the Chamber-led task team, measures had been implemented in mines to improve the safety of female workers. These included “buddy” systems, panic buttons, two-way radios, tracking systems, securing vulnerable areas on a mine and sealing off abandoned areas, self-defence training, regular visits by supervisors and a hotline to report intimidation.

She said it was also important for female miners to have work clothing and safety equipment that was specifically designed for their needs, as well as their own changing and ablution facilities.

“Even as gender representation targets are met, and although the more enlightened companies have provided gender sensitivity training, it doesn’t mean that the norm of mutually respectful working relationships is in place,” said Russell.

“In many areas, women mineworkers still encounter significant disrespect and worse. They must be able to go about their work, whether under or above ground, without having to worry that they will face discrimination, harassment or worse. We know this is a manifestation of problems in society as a whole, but there is a responsibility on us as employers to deal with it wherever possible.”

Mpumi Sithole, Anglo Platinum’s media manager, said employee safety was a priority and that the company continually reviewed ways to make the workplace safer for everyone.

“We have instituted a buddy system to ensure employees work in teams and are able to look out for each other. We launched a sexual harassment hotline [and] hosted interactive sessions with the women in our mines to ensure that we jointly find solutions to address the safety of the women underground,” said Sithole.

“We remain fully committed to maintaining the highest standards of safety and we will continue doing everything in our power to create a safe environment for all our employees.”

Tholakele Nene is an associate of Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism. This investigation was sponsored by #MineAlert and Code for Africa and syndicated through the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting. #MineAlert is a website and mobile app that alerts residents and organisations to mining applications and licences in their regions. Use the app to find information on North West Anglo Platinum’s Khomanani mine.

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