Pregnant woman dies after Bikita Minerals rejects request for ambulance

…several women demonstrate against ‘insensitive’ mine managers

Upenyu Chaota

A Bikita Minerals shiftman in the production department recently lost his pregnant wife to delivery complications after the mining company emphatically refused to release an ambulance to take her to Harare for emergency specialist care, EnviroPress can report.

The 35-year-old Sukholuhle Gumede was wife to Alliston Chivasa who works as a shiftman in the production department of the lithium mining company which was bought by Chinese firm Sino Mine in January 2022.

She left behind three children, the oldest of them being only 13 years of age.

After Gumede’s death, several wives of mine workers staged a demonstration (pictured) to demand the resignation of Human Resources Manager Tonderai Charehwa and his de facto boss Lui Rui (commonly known as Martin) for blocking the release of the ambulance.

Sources said Charehwa called Liu, who was on leave in China, to consult with him on Chivasa’s request for the ambulance to take his wife to Harare, and Liu refused.

Gumede died at Parirenyatwa Hospital on Wenesday, March 19, 2024 and was buried in the Zimuto communal lands on Friday March 21.

Prior to her death, she had been ferried, in the company’s ambulance, to Silveira Mission Hospital after suffering from an illness related to her pregnancy.

Sources said at Silveira, she suffered a miscarriage and the mission hospital ambulance was used to transfer her to Masvingo Provincial Hospital after it was realised that she needed higher level medical care.

Medical staff that attended to her at Masvingo Provincial Hospital later recommended that she be transferred for specialist care in Harare but there was no ambulance for her since the hospital offers no such service.

Chivasa then requested his employer to avail the mine ambulance to take his wife to Harare, and the request was granted by mine manager David Mwanza.

However, Liu reversed Mwanza’s decision after being called by Charehwa, saying the ambulance could not take patients anywhere further than Silveira Mission Hospital.

Gumede only got to Harare a day later after another employee who was travelling to Harare offered her a lift in his pick-up truck. Doctors in Harare reportedly pointed out that she must have been brought to them earlier.

“We demonstrated to register our displeasure with Liu and his puppet Charehwa. We want both of them to go. As human resources and administration head of department, Liu officially ranks below Charehwa but he is the de facto general manager who overrides everybody especially managers of indigenous origin,” said a woman who was part of the demonstration.

The demonstration saw women marching to the general office and later dispersing after the arrival of riot police. However, the police are said to be now following the women one by one, threatening them and demanding to know who their ‘ring leader’ was.

When contacted for comment Bikita Minerals spokesperson Collen Nikisi said the company policy stipulated that the ambulance could not go beyond Masvingo province.

“The people are just angry but the mine played its part. We released the ambulance to ferry her to Silveira Hospital but our policy is that the ambulance cannot be driven out of the province. We have only one ambulance and it cannot be absent from the mine for too long,” said Nikisi.

The accident-prone Bikita Minerals has roughly 1 500 permanent and contract workers most of whom staying in the mine compound with their families.

Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Mining Workers Union (ZDAMWU) Secretary General Justice Chinhema said the death of Gumede was unfortunate and was testament to the bad relationship between Chinese investors and locals.

“Before Bikita Minerals was taken over by the Chinese, workers used to enjoy cordial relations with the previous owners who treated stakeholders with greater respect. The company must take care of its workers and their families because a happy worker is very productive,” said Chinhema, who attended Gumede’s burial.

He said the company must have an ambulance for every 500 employees at the very minimum.

Bikita Institute of Land and Development (BILAD) leader Mountain Mujakachi accused the mining company of being insensitive and lacking empathy.

“The new investors lack empathy and they are out of touch with our culture of Ubuntu. A pregnant woman must be given all the respect and assistance that she needs. It’s shocking that the company ignored a woman who was in genuine need,” he said.

Economic Justice for Women Project (EJWP) Zimbabwe director Margret Mutsamvi said it was unacceptable that such a tragedy could happen in a resource-rich community.

“It’s regrettable that we lost under such circumstances a member of a host community which has vast resources. We have investors who do not even care about their own employees, let alone other people in areas where they work,” said Mutsamvi.

She called for stronger legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms to make sure citizens could speak out and hold abusive investors to account.

“We must fight extractivism together. Part of the problem is that government doesn’t come out clearly to protect citizens on issues such as this. There is need for a more open relationship between the people and investors to promote accountable, transparent and ethical business practices,” she said.