Interview: Blessing Hungwe, an inspirational leader and miner

Blessing Hungwe

Small-scale mining has been a vital economic activity for centuries. It has provided jobs and earned revenues for individuals, families, and communities. However, the risks and challenges associated with small-scale mining operations cannot be ignored leading to many despising this industry. Blessing Hungwe defies the odds in this tough industry and is a beacon of hope even for men aspiring to succeed in this industry.

Mining Zimbabwe had a one-on-one with the inspirational woman and here is how our interaction went.

Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you became interested in Mining?

I went to school in Kwekwe where I stayed with my uncles who are into gold mining and they inspired me. I tried going to Diaspora but my heart and passion was back home to establish in the mining sector. I rose from humble beginnings as an artisanal miner and reinvested my earnings to mechanise and expand my mining operations.

Why did you venture into Mining and why specifically gold mining?

The inborn passion that grew in me is from my uncles (the Kadenhe’s)  who took me to the gold pits. Because of them, I have an eye on opportunities in that sector. Zimbabwe is a blessed country, with a vast of minerals. I got so much interested in gold mining since it’s a valuable mineral with a readily available market. Gold mining is a major contributor to economic growth due to the creation of employment and business opportunities for local people and I grabbed the opportunity.

How is working with men and being the one in charge?

Indeed, it is perceived as intimidating to work in a male-dominated industry but personally, I hold the fort and stay determined. Mining is not usually selected as a career choice by women as they give value to jobs that are aligned with the traditional roles for women. Mining is considered a male-oriented sector while women are perceived as naturally weak, so you need to go the extra mile in performing your duties as a woman in the industry. Commitment is one key driver to success.

You are one of the most looked up to women miners in the Zimbabwe mining industry, what are you doing to use your influence to inspire women miners?

I am making every effort to bring more women into the mining industry. I am a miner and a top producer of gold and hence inspiring women to invest in the mining industry hence our mantra “Women can do it”. My passion for empowering women miners has resulted in me occupying various leadership positions in women in mining associations and platforms including the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF), Guruve District Women in Mining Association, Mashonaland Central Province Women in Mining Association, Zimbabwe Association of Women in Mining Associations (ZAWIMA). I am the founder and leader of the Women in Mining Association under the wings of the Ministry of Women, Community, Small, and Medium Enterprises. I also served as SADC Secretary General for SADC Women in Mining Association which I am a board member. I played a key role in the formation of the Zimbabwe Women in Mines and Mining Development Trust to make sure the interests of women in the mining industry are prioritized. I am a member of the Artisanal Small Scale Mining Committee in the African Women in Mining Association (AWIMA). Currently, I am the Regional Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for Anglophone Africa for the Delve Exchange programme being sponsored by World Bank.

Women are still considered a vulnerable group within the mining sector and we are ring-fencing the interests of women by creating platforms like ZAWIMA which brings all women’s associations together to create a formidable force and talk with one voice and be heard.

Since joining the mining industry what have been your achievements?

  • Lobbying for the affordable charges for Environmental Impact Assessment for small-scale miners at Zimbabwe Alternative Mining Indaba in 2018 (ZELA) which has brought up the Environmental Management Plan (EMP)
  • Zero Mercury Project (UNDP), Capacity Building for Women in Mining and managed to make Zero Mercury awareness with ZELA in Midlands
  • Lobbying and achieving Women in Mining Training with the School of Mines in 2018
  • Lobbied for the establishment of a gold milling centre in Guruve which was then established by ILO and AfDB through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and benefited over 200 women
  • Commission on the Status of Women CSW 61 in 2017 and pushed the agenda of establishing Women in Mining Associations in Africa and speaking with one voice
  • I am one of the members who contributed to the establishment of the SADC Women in Mining Association.

Can you walk me through your main roles and responsibilities at the mine?

I started small roles that involved pegging, getting the required paperwork, organizing human resources and machinery and running a day-to-day business even catering for my employees. After taking my mining venture as a real business I acquired more mining claims and created employment where I am employing supervisors, engineers, safety officers, and young technical skilled people from universities thereby creating employment.  I assumed the duties of a Managing Director of my mining business, implementing internal policies and regulations which include, health and safety, gender equality, etc. I am using my mine as a free training site for women in mining.

You are one of the few females who is leading in a male-dominated environment, what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?

Women miners are always short-changed, they take ages to realize profits due to a lack of access to financial resources, mining knowledge, technical skills and equipment. It took quite a lot for me to gain confidence due to the lack of career guidance. The success of women in this male-dominated sector is usually perceived to some sexual favours, nepotism or witchcraft which was never the case in my way of achieving. So many times as a woman you are silenced when you want to speak out and it’s never been the case with me I keep lobbying. I am pushing for a regulatory framework that is accommodative of small-scale miners who are largely women. It took me time to realise substantial amounts from mining until I got money to do exploration.

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Who is your female role model and why?

My role model is Honourable Applonia Munzverengi (Dr) who is currently the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution in Mashonaland East and a Senator for the Hwedza-Marondera constituency. That woman inspired me and she has women at heart.  She achieved to break the stereotypes in a strongly male-dominated sector when she was the ZMF President. She lobbied for the downsizing of a number of EPOs and downsizing of ZIMASCO and ZIMALLOYS claims and got small-scale miners to benefit. She helped a lot of women to fit in the male-dominated industry and she has championed me and helped me see my own potential.

We are in the women’s month, what changes (if any) would you like to see in the work environment to promote women’s participation at all levels?

The interests of women can only be heard if they are involved throughout the value chain including holding leadership positions and the involvement should include increased access to financial resources, increased access to mining claims and capacity building for women.

Words of advice to women who wish to follow in your footsteps career-wise?

I think loving your job is the most important thing in your success. When you love your job, you are not afraid of failures, and through consistency and hard work, you can achieve anything you want. Mining is a vast and challenging field in which to achieve professional excellence but also fights sectoral and rigid cultural stereotypes along the way.  There is a need to change the mindset of people that will compel more women to come forward and participate in this sector. I would say to other girls: you need to be self-confident and strong. Your gender should not come in the way of your career. Just be focused and work hard.

Besides the Mining business, what does Blessing enjoy doing?

I am a mother; I enjoy spending time with my family. I love going to church. Most of all I am a God-fearing woman. I am also engaged in some farming activities.

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