SECURING a good job and being happily married is top most on many women’s wish list.
The desire is easily granted for some but that has not been the case for Mrs Chiedza Mugwagwa and several other women.
The 50-year-old, who is Dallaglio Pickstone Mine head of geology, had to make a tough choice in life.
She was forced to choose between her “beloved job” and family.
Dodging hazards that come with working underground became the least of her worries.
Instead, the mother of two became focused on ducking attempts by in-laws and parents to talk her out of her job.
They all agreed the job was against their cultural values and a threat to her life.
The extreme ones wrongly assumed that women that work at mines are not morally upright.
“They could not understand how I worked with so many men, my work timetable and the mere fact that we address each other by first names,” said Mrs Mugwagwa.
“Being called by my first name was morally wrong to them, let alone wearing trousers (work suits) so I had to choose. It was tough but I told myself that I had to make it work no matter the circumstances.”
While she flourished and rose through the ranks in her 27-year service, her family did not celebrate with her.
Instead, she still had to deal with her husband who remained adamant on the mission to get her out of the job.
What bothered the veteran geologist though was how the man he loved so much had “all of a sudden changed”.
“At first, all was well. But as external pressure mounted, it became difficult for us to live as husband and wife.
“He would often scold and remind me that I am a woman thus need to be more submissive rather than push him around, which I never did. By submission, he wanted me to quit my job and focus on being a housewife,” recounts Mrs Mugwagwa.
Sadly, her husband passed on in 2016 before she could make him see the light in promoting gender equality.
But marriage, she vowed, was never going to take away her love for rocks.
She still does not regret holding on to her job and hopes to keep rising.
Background to mining
Born in Gokwe, Mrs Mugwagwa briefly attended Nembudziya Primary School where her father was a teacher.
At the age of 10, she transferred to Rancho Mine Primary where she stayed with her uncle, a mine employee.
That would mark the beginning of her love for stones.
The veteran miner often found herself with a collection of different stone types, which she would closely study.
“I used to think the collection was just a crazy fascination I had. I never knew it was going to become my profession,” she said.
She recalls proceeding to Zimuto Secondary before transferring to Victoria High in Masvingo with her stone collection.
After completing her Advanced Level, she was persuaded into studying towards a degree in geology by her uncle.
She enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe in 1994 with two other females in a class consisting of more than 40 male students.
“Our first challenge was being ladies in a class consisting of male lecturers and students. They often wanted to make us feel that we could never be better than them and this was a huge barrier. It was worse during practical sessions, they painted us as weak, so we always needed to prove ourselves,” she recalls.
In 1995, Mrs Mugwagwa joined a mine in Gwanda on an internship.
After her nine months of attachment, she almost lost heart in geology due to the hostile and tough environment she had been subjected to.
She briefly left fieldwork and focused on being a lecturer after graduation.
But they say you can never run away from a calling.
An opportunity to work as a junior geologist at Blanket Mine availed itself in 1996 and she clutched it.
At the mine, it was only her and a nurse out of at least 600 employees that were male.
“One of the guys one day asked if I had failed to find someone to marry me and I said no,” she said.
“He went on to ask if my parents were still alive. When I said yes, he questioned what I was doing at the mine. They thought no lady would just want to work under the mine without pressing issues.
“They often teased me and one day, as I tried to go to the storerooms, some of the guys started undressing just to scare me off.”
Through hard work and determination, she rose to the rank of section geologist in less than five years.
She also started specialising with mining software.
Mrs Mugwagwa later on moved to Mazowe Mine as a section geologist before moving to Shamva Mine where she landed a role as senior section geologist.
She was then promoted to a section geologist when the company rebranded to Metallon Gold.
In 2008, when Metallon Gold shut down, she moved to Zimplats for a year before relocating to South Africa as a geological systems manager.
She was to return home as group mineral resources manager in 2013 when Metallon Gold re-opened.
She held the position until 2019 when the company shut down again.
That is when she moved to Dallaglio Pickstone Mine where she is the current head of geology.
“In the past 27 years, I have learnt that both society and the professional world are still not yet fully supportive of women in mining. My subordinates are men and it is not easy; they will respect you because they know you have the knowledge but being a woman, they always want to make you feel inferior,” said Mrs Mugwagwa.
In celebrating International Women’s Month, she feels it is time for women to move out of their cocoons and fight for visibility in all aspects.
“We live in a men’s society but it should not make us feel inferior, as women we work against a lot of barriers so constantly we are under pressure.
“We need to acquire as much expertise to break the glass ceiling and fight to pursue our passions no matter the circumstances.”