Breaking Barriers: Elizabeth’s story of survival and hope as a small-scale miner in Erongo Namibia
Elizabeth Kaperu- Ndara, is a 64-year-old active small-scale miner from Otjimboyo, a small resettlement situated 35 kilometres northeast of Karibib town in Namibia’s Erongo region. Elizabeth’s parents were small-scale miners for over 30 years during the South African apartheid regime in Namibia and ultimately by the age of 12, she was helping to put food on the table for her family and joined the small-scale mining industry.
At the age of 18, Elizabeth fled Otjimboyo with her family due to poor wages and bad working conditions. She moved to Kamanjab where she stayed with her uncle and later got married and lived with her husband and seven children. Elizabeth and her husband managed to get menial jobs on local farms, but this was not stable enough to support their family.
Thousands of Namibians have been impacted by the apartheid laws which imposed a contract labour law system on all indigenous people. As a result, individuals such as Elizabeth moved from their traditional land; left with no homes or means of livelihood. Fast-forward to 2007, Elizabeth’s late husband (who passed on in 2019) wanted better for his family and so the family decided to move to Otjimboyo which Elizabeth once called home with the aim to create generational wealth as mining claim holders since both she and her late husband had expertise in mining.
Elizabeth and her late husband started their own small-scale mining business in Otjimboyo and have since been able to provide for their family. Elizabeth is now the sole owner of the business and is the only female small-scale miner in the area. She is a role model to many.
The Ndara family officially started mining semi-precious stones (tourmaline) in 2007, often working with nothing more than a pickaxe, their hands and total dedication and selling them to tourists from various parts of the world who come to Namibia to buy raw gemstones and mineral specimens. For Elizabeth, mining and selling tourmaline changed her life.
“Since moving back to Otjimboyo, our lives changed for the better. My husband and I were able to send our children to school. When we started mining, we recruited 12 small-scale miners (8 permanent and 4 seasonal workers. It was such a blessing being able to assist families including mine directly and indirectly through mining for their livelihoods”.
The Ndara family has since grown their business and now employs over 30 people including women in her family. They have also diversified their business to include the cutting and polishing of the stones.
Elizabeth describes one of the biggest challenges facing small-scale miners like herself is the lack of financial resources, conflict over mining rights, price determination, lack of proper equipment and machinery, lack of training, mining permits, and occupational health hazards.
With support from UNDP Namibia’s project on ’Strengthening Environmental Governance and Improving Health and Safety in Critical Small-Scale Mining Hotspots in Namibia’ supported by the Ministry of Mining and Energy (MME), Elizabeth alongside small-scale miners in Erongo region were trained on the environmental, health and safety issues so that they will be able to implement Environmental Management Plans (EMP) and to know how to operate in healthy and safe environments.
“I received health and safety guidelines for small-scale miners, shade nets, waste bins, signages and toilets were installed at various hotspots including here at Otjimboyo, we also received Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and first aid training” she recalled.
Elizabeth also highlighted the importance of having access to financial resources to enable small-scale miners to purchase the necessary equipment and machinery to operate safely and efficiently. She noted that the lack of access to financial resources is a major challenge for small-scale miners, as they are unable to purchase the necessary equipment.
After being consulted to take part in the Environmental Impact Assessment by UNDP and Ministry of Mining and Energy officials last year (2022) through the EGP project, small-scale miners like Elizabeth now understand better environmental impacts and how to avoid them. “We are aware and comply with Namibia’s Environmental Assessment Policy, Environmental Management Act (2007) and its Regulations (2012).” she explained. “We ensure that we close all manmade glory holes after extraction to preserve and avoid possible accidence for humans and animals.”
Elizabeth and her team have also implemented several other measures to reduce their environmental impact. These include using water efficiently, using appropriate safety equipment, and disposing of waste in a responsible manner.
The small-scale miner revealed that income from her business is always low during the rainy seasons (December to March) leading to mining operations closing for some weeks because it is not safe to mine during the rainy season. She allows her workers to take holidays and capitalize on mining during winter and summer (July to November). “Most miners take holidays during the season to spend time with their families. It’s a good thing because we all need rest and mining is not easy as it looks.”
Elizabeth added, “The small-scale mining business has helped me and my family immensely. With the money I make, I have sent all my children to school up to tertiary education. Since we started in 2007, we employed over 200 people including my children and relatives. Sometimes, youth from surrounding Karibib approach me but are not able to take on new miners due to resources to buy PPEs. My hope has always been that the mine workers that I have trained will be able to succeed on their own, just as l am doing. All they need is a little assistance.”
Her advice to other women is that they should join her in the industry as mining claims holders and learn how to mine instead of staying home.