At US$15 per tonne, artisanal chrome can’t sustain decent livelihoods

Yeukai Munetsi

A man from the Sebakwe area of Chirumhanzu suffers from what he suspects to be a serious lung infection attributable to the dust he inhales and chemicals he handles in the course of his work, but cannot afford specialist medical care because he is paid a pittance for the chrome he mines.

While there is a great possibility of silicosis to artisanal miners, various long-term health conditions suffered by miners are not detected because of weak a health system.

In an interview, Blessing Hukama said the community had no capacity for early testing and detection of early such illnesses.

“I have suffered dry coughs and pains in my chest for several months but because the clinics are far away, I went once and I was given paracetamol and ibuprofen. I suspect I am gravely injured inside,” said Hukama.

Dust particles inhaled during the process of mining causes many respiratory diseases such as Silicosis, TB, obstructive pneumonia, pneumoconiosis, asthma, emphysema, lung cancer among other illnesses.

According to Resource Safety and Health 2020, a person suffering from a mine dust lung disease would often be actually suffering from more than one of such diseases.

Hukama can hardly afford to miss a day’s work and spare that money needed to travel to more equipped health facilities in Gweru and Mvuma.

“Our local clinic is almost empty of medicines and when one suffers such complicated diseases, we have to travel to Mvuma or Gweru to get proper healthcare,” he said.

Blessing Muchemedzi, a close friend to Hukama, said the low artisanal chrome producer price means most miners prioritise food for their families over everything else even though they could be suffering grave medical conditions.

“We sell our chrome to the Chinese and get US$15 per tonne. Travelling to Gweru and back demands US$10. That means I am only left with a few dollars to cater for hospital bills. We really care about our health but we cannot leave our families starving,” said Muchemedzi.

Muchemedzi pleaded with the government to intervene and assist in making sure that the place has properly-equipped health care facilities.

“My plea is for the government to make sure these big companies mining in our community give back by building hospitals because the problems always affect ordinary members of the community who have no capacity to manage in these dire conditions,” he said.

Other artisanal chrome miners accused the Chinese buyers of fixing prices to undercut local small-scale producers who have no access to any other markets.

This project was made possible through a partnership with the Southern Africa Trust. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent that of the Trust or its associates.