Zim Digital Sunday Express
June 18, 2021

The untold stories of Zimbabwe’s wives of gold panners

These women undergo all sorts of pressure and stresses that can lead them into depression

 

By Esinathy Sibanda

THE FRESH smell of cow dung welcomes one to the deep-green valley of half-explored lands of Shurugwi.

A few miles away, the gaudy voice of Precious Moyo is heard giving orders to the herd boy, who is
about to take her small herd of cattle to the dew masked grasslands.

As energetic as a fiddle, Precious, in her early fifties, tosses sorghum in the air. Soon, chickens come
cackling, celebrating the first meal for the day.

A few metres away, the goats are watching, waiting impatiently for their meal time to come. But, it
is early morning, so they will have to wait longer as Precious has other chores to attend to.

This is the life of Precious, who said “yes I do, till death do us part”, thirty years ago to a missing
husband, a gold panner. For most of her married life she is alone as her husband spends time far and
beyond in the stomach of the earth hunting for the precious stones.

Headlines are splashed of gold panners’ not so pleasant lifestyle yet no one cares to listen to the
experiences of their better halves.

Gold panners are known for splashing their hard earned cash recklessly on just about anything.
Alcohol, women, cars, you name it.

Not all that glitters is gold

But, as they say, “not all that glitters is gold”. Some gold panners are family men and their lonely
wives have stories to tell about being married to missing husbands, who society calls by all sorts of
names including omakorokoza.

They are feared in society not because of the rich gold pickings but for their violence, as heavy
substance abusers and irresponsible individuals who could speak any word to anyone without
blinking their eyes. They speak the language of the kombi touts.

Enough of the stories of gold panners; their wives speak out.

For Precious, her husband is not different from injivas who only visit their wives during Christmas
holidays. Her husband usually goes away in search of the precious gold for as long as a year without
setting foot at home.

“He usually goes away for a month or so. The longest time he was away was for a year. I’m left
behind to take care of the family and the homestead,” said Precious, a mother of three daughters.

“While he is away, I fill in his shoes. All the fatherly duties become mine. I make sure the children
eat, go to school and are protected,” added Precious, who has taken over men’s traditional role of
being head of the family.

Like the late Winnie Mandela, who was the most unmarried married woman when her husband was
in prison for 27 years, Precious too endures all the difficulties alone, while her husband rips the
earth in search of gold.

Bombshell

With her legs crossed and arms tied around her upper body, Precious drops a bombshell.

“My husband can get more than a US$3 000 but he will bring a maximum of US$200 sometimes. He
is an excessive drinker and loves having affairs,” she said in a disheartened voice.

Tired of being fed from the crumbs of her husband’s gold panning ventures, Precious has resorted to
cross-border trading, vending and farming to raise money for fees for her three daughters who are
still at school.

“I once tried gold panning, but the work was hard and I had to stop,” she said.

However, over the years they have spent together with her husband, they have managed to
accumulate some wealth. They built a five-roomed house at their homestead, own a good size of a
herd of cattle, goats and chicken.

Mercy Sithole (29), another wife of a gold panner, who has been married for eight years now and
has two children, narrates an almost similar story except that her husband is a bit responsible.

She and her husband have started investing in mining too. They are now proud owners of a small-
scale mine where they employ a few people.

While Mercy appears content with her husband’s choice of work, she said she lives in fear. She is not
scared of living alone but fears contracting sexually transmitted infections because of the absence of
her husband for quite some time and like many other gold panners, attracting different kinds of
women as they are known to be big spenders.

Precious too is scared. When she delivered her third daughter, the child was affected by syphilis that
she suspects her husband brought it to their matrimonial bed.

“When I gave birth to my third child, her eyes were discharging some white liquid that was later
diagnosed as a symptom of syphilis. Luckily, she was treated and both my husband and I had to undergo treatment,” she said.

Trust issues

What is even worse for Precious is that her husband refuses to go for regular STI screening.

Whenever she brings up the topic, her husband gets angry, accusing her of either parcelling out his
goodies or having trust issues.

However, Precious remains committed to her family. At one time, she suffered depression and had
to seek professional assistance, as she couldn’t handle the excess pressure of being the head of the
family while her husband is rarely present to give support.

When their eldest child fell pregnant, her husband put all the blame on her for failing to take care of
the children while he was away.

“I always tell my girls to choose their husbands carefully. They should get married to God-fearing
individuals who are not like their father. Right now, I am watching them like a hawk. I cannot let one
of my children walk in my footsteps; a life full of misery. After all has been said, I love my family,”
she said

Statistics from the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe (NAC) reveal that gold panners, like truck
drivers are exposed to HIV infection and other STIs.

A report by NAC called the Global AIDS Response Progress in 2019 states that one in every four gold
panners is living with the HIV infection.

Commenting on the experiences of gold panners’ wives, who head families alone without sharing
the responsibilities with their husbands, a psychologist Counsellor Sakhelene Sibanda said their lives
are at risk.

“Depression occurs when the person has feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anger that persist
over a period of weeks and interfere with daily life. These women undergo all sorts of pressure and
stresses that can lead them into depression,” she explained.

She added that pressure alone could damage the esteem of women and destroy them both
emotionally and socially.

Counsellor Sibanda said the sad reality is that these women suffer silently; they never seek help
since society discriminates them because of the stereotypes associated with gold panners.

 

Esinathy Sibanda is features writer for The Mail Online. Feedback: esinathy@saywhat.org.zw. Cantact her at (263) 77 937 8696

 

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