|A young man in Chimanimani, Mozambique|
"Dozens of women give birth in this mountain, more get miscarriages, too much dirty soil and messy food. Nearest clinic is 70km away, west in Zimbabwe, over 7 river crossings. In Mozambique, east, they refuse to offer birth certificate to babies born in this gold forest,” says Maud, 39, weighing a metal dish to sift mud for alluvial gold ore.
Why, Mozambique, just 40 km away, east, refuse birth legalization services to the babies? “Musanditeera mountain forest is not their legal territory, they say,” explains Maud.
“In Zimbabwe, they repeat the same, push us back to Mozambique. Our children, born in this mountain, are grounded, stateless. Not Mozambique, not Zimbabwe.”
Female artisanal gold diggers, who labour in the ore rich but lawless “Musanditeera” Mountain border range that belongs neither to Mozambique nor Zimbabwe – live the indignity of raising stateless forest babies who are shunned in both Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
For a start, “Musanditeera” officially called Chimanimani Mountain Range is a notoriously violent, no man´s land –laced with some of Southern Africa´s most lucrative gold deposits and possibly precious emerald. This 100 km stretch of granite, sitting 1200 meters above sea level, is supposed to be part of the vast land border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
In reality, the territory belongs to no one though Mozambique´s paramilitary forces impose order, extort bribes and act as cartels selling mineral pits.
The name “Musanditeera” means “don’t follow” me, a lingo coined to fit the mountain´s chilling deaths, drownings and murders accounts.
Hundreds of entrepreneurial rural women from Zimbabwe, garnished by hunger and a dying economy began to troop to “Musanditeera” bush when rumors of lavish gold deposits surfaced in 2008, and drew dealers from afar as Lebanon.
According to Mr. Wellington Takavarasha, chairperson of Zimbabwe Artisinal and Small Scale Mining, approximately 500 000 artisanal miners are dotted acroass Zimbabwe. Of these, 153 000 are female and children who provide dirty water to those who pound mineral ore.
And stateless babies were born
In this no man´s land gold pits, laws don’t exist. Extortion, forced sex and pneumonia began to savage female artisanal diggers and children who squat and did no mining sometimes up to a year.
“We soon realized, to eat or get a chance to mine we had to become sex concubines of powerful male diggers,” says Maud, who gave birth to a baby boy in Musanditeera Forest in 2013.
The Zimbabwe Centre for Natural Resource Governance confirms, “Women and children cannot own the gold claims. Men own the output because they provide the labour and protection.”
“This strips of dignity, but most women in the mountains have no choice,” Maud adds.
“We exchange sex for access to richer gold pits. If we harvest, say, 20 grams of gold ore a week, the men diggers who sleep with us for protection, snatch 14 grams as ransom fee. Most of us fall pregnant this way.”
And their babies faces the harshest dilemmas.
First “Musanditeera” mountain range has garnishing temperatures that can plummet to -3 degrees Celsius, water streams poisoned by gold cleaning mercury, no school, nor clinic or road, expect 70km away west in Zimbabwe or 40km east in the republic of Mozambique.
“Horrible place to give birth and bring up a child,” says Maud, wiping a speckle of sweat in a rocky cave where she refines wet gold ore on a heated spoon. Her baby boy scrambles up her back.
She says, from 2012 when she arrived in the gold forest, she has seen eight women diggers give birth in the caves, under the supervision of woefully untrained midwives.
She points to a roll up of small rocks down a stream valley where male diggers crank shovels to corner a gold ore rich soil.
“Graves. She was my friend, pregnant. Both mother and baby didn’t last beyond two weeks.”
The Zimbabwe 2015 Democratic Health Survey says the country still lags far from its aim of least 326 deaths per every 100 000 live birth though 78% of women in the country have their children delivered by trained medics. Maternal deaths mainly occur between birth and 42 days.
“Child births in this forests are scarier,” adds Maud who has Obstetric Fistula, a medical communication problem between vagina and bladder originating from her painful labour. She and her son are outcasts in the gold pits due to her problematic urine smell.
“Sometimes Mozambique wildlife rangers and paramilitary border forces give us dirty sanitary pads to contain post birth bleeding. They extort two grams of gold ore in for the favour.”
“Then they always pitch up drunk at dusk, rifles on back, mocking our stateless babies.”
“When Tinotenda, my son was born, I walked west for two days down the mountain till I reached a public clinic in Chimanimani town Zimbabwe to obtain a birth certificate for him,” explains Maud.
“We were sent from pillar to post. Registrar told me my son was born in Mozambique territory, and should be registered there.”
Disgruntled, she turned east, walked 40 km and a hitched a truck for a further 50km to Espungabeira town in the republic of Mozambique.
“At Mozambique birth registration offices, I was almost arrested for being an illegal miner, immigrant. Only the sight of my hungry son drew pity. I was flatly told my baby is Zimbabwean and should turn back west.”
Her colleague, Eliza, 38, an artisanal gold digger too in “Musanditeera” Mountain range shares the pain.
“In February 2014, I delivered my first daughter in this forest too. She is stateless, received a birth certificate nowhere too.”
“I am a sex concubine too to a powerful gold digger who “owns” two other women in this mountain range.”
Eliza reveals why: “you see it is difficult for women to work independently.
Men deliberately go into rich gold pits naked, in under-wear. It´s a brutal mental tactic, to block us female diggers form venturing into lucrative gold ore pits.”
Forest babies health fears:
Eliza on her path regrets that because of her regular scrambling to get into gold pits, she had no adequate time to breast feed her daughter.
“No immunization too. She once caught pneumonia until Mozambique wildlife rangers sold us pills smuggled from clinics for five grams of gold ore. She has stunted growth now.”
Breast feeding in the first 1000 days of a baby is critical.
The longer mothers exclusively breast-feed their babies, the less likely their children are to develop behavioural problems, known as conduct disorders, at primary school age, according to a study published in the open-access medical journal, PLOS Medicine in June.
The study noticed: children of mothers who exclusively breast-fed their babies for the first six months of their lives were about half (56%) as likely to experience conduct disorders unlike those not. About 1 500 children were examined at the Africa Centre for Population Health, in South Africa between 2012 and 2014.
Made aware of this, Eliza points to her daughter who scramble with Maud´s son in the dust to pick ore and strain small rock, passing on to their mothers. The two babies show fatigue among the strain of the sun.
Maud sense early emotional scars, “the children are picking the sadness and pain of our voices.”
“No school, no proper home, no birth certificates. Who knows, our babies may adopt crime and behavior anger if they make it to be teenagers. Babies here see men taking alcohol, smoking leaf drug like Mudzepete, bad language and transactional sex.”
This plight is urgent as gender specialist Isabella Matambanadzo notes. She says governments in Southern Africa must recognize children born out of rape, wedlock and sexual violations vulnerable to statelessness and mental difficulties.
Failing children medicines:
Mental problems fears – this is shared by Kerosi, 36, their colleague. She is an alluvial gold digger too, but says she is “lucky.”
“My four year old son born here in the mountain, was issued with a birth certificate in Manica city, Mozambique. I bribed a registrar clerk with fifteen grams of gold ore.”
But living in the gold mountain is a drawback on her and son. “I am diagnosed with HIV, sadly my four year old son was born with it.”
Maidei receives a batch of live saving anti-retroviral medicine free from a public clinic in Manica city, on the Mozambique no man´s land side of no man´s land.
A vexing problem has arose in the forest. Maidei´s son is taking the new three-in-one HIV pill recently introduced by the Mozambique health authorities to replace the previous regime of Tenofovir, Lovovidine and Nevirapine.
“The new pills makes him sick here in the mountains. The boy sometimes develops enlarged breasts and gets prolonged penis erections. When I am out in the pits digging gold, he says he feels dizzy.”
“The clinic says it is side effects, called gynecomastia. “Gwejas” – bands of male gold diggers – mock him calling him Zika (insult reference to the Zika virus)”
Laboratories a far off from the mountain. “My fear is the boy will refuse to drink his pills.”Stateless babies in Zimbabwe, where Maud, Eliza and Kerosi originate is a perplexing phenomenon, but one that is growing.
UNHCR regional protection officer Matthias Reuss admits, “in our region, causes of statelessness include societal modernization, shortcomings in civil registration and documentation, disintegration of traditional family bonds, discrimination on the basis of gender, and underfunded public administrations.”
But, Zimbabwe’s former representative in the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum on statelessness in the region, Mrs. Monica Mutsvangwa, said lawmakers need clarity on numbers.
“We feel there is need for hard data to be made available by the UNHCR on our country’s state of statelessness so that parliamentarians use it for policy formulation.”
However policy-makers waffle, mining babies born in no man´s lands like those of Maud, Eliza and Kerosi are thrown straight away into underage labour.
As Kerose and Maud conclude, “I know he is underage but we force my son to stay behind in the cave guarding gold ore. Male diggers steal.”
Ps: The women cited in the story have requested to have their names changed in order to guard their safety.
(About the writer: Ray Mwareya is Africa Humanitarian Correspondent for the Global South Development Magazine and 2016 Winner of the UN Correspondents Association Media Prize. www.clippings.me/raymwareya83 )