Kundai Chikonzo is passionate about small-scale mining, the communities that it impacts, and safety and human rights associated with this industry. In addition to being Managing Director of the Hawkline Mine and Director of Chete Tee Consulting, Kundai is active in numerous sustainable development initiatives, including environmental business rights, risk management, and the rights of women, children, and the disabled.
Kundai was recently voted to become the first Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Women in Mining Associations. She was the first woman to advertise a gold fund in Zimbabwe through the Central Bank, is the founder of Insiza Women in Mining Trust, and cofounder of the Zimbabwe Mining Safety, Health and Environmental Council Trust. She is also a member of the Global Advocacy Team for the International Accountability Project, and serves as a volunteer for International Women in Mining (IWiM). Kundai holds a B.Com (Hons) in Accounting from Great Zimbabwe University, in addition to a wide range of tax, project management, mining, governance, leadership, and safety qualifications.
By Kathy Sole
You originally trained as an accountant. Please tell us how you ended up working in the mining industry?
First of all, I am a challenge-oriented or driven person who does not shy away from challenges at all. With that said, I found myself in the middle of advocacy work, mainly as a voice for the women in the ASM [artisanal and small-scale mining] sector. All that led to a whole lot of new challenges for me and my subsequence involvement with the mining industry.
I’m still practicing Accountancy because mining is like any other business that needs accountability of transactions and it needs to make profits in order to grow. I noticed most small mines lack internal controls and cost-management skills, hence I decided to implement my accounting skills in the mining world, and specifically in the small mine sector, growing to medium, then of course to large: Mine Finance and Mine Taxation, to be more specific. I interpret geological reports to convert them into monetary models for easy evaluation of the mining business.
Please describe your career progression and your current role.
Over the years, I have learnt a lot from counterparts in the industry, which helped in my progress to be a more effective miner. I was recently elected the first ever Chairperson of the newly launched Zimbabwe Association of Women in Mining Associations (ZAWIMA). I am also the director of Insiza Women In Mining Trust [Zimbabwe] which aims to mould other women in the industry and help cement our position, as well as show the world that women can do it too.
What I did to progress in the sector was to invest in my education with correlated courses because all that I studied contributes to a growth in my career.
You have been very involved in issues of sustainability and assessing environmental impacts of small-scale mining on women, children, and women living with disabilities. Please tell us about this project and its outcomes.
Through a programme that was initiated by Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association, Women Can Do It: Train the Trainer, I was able to initiate training on issues of sustainability and assessing the environment towards the voices of marginalized persons, responsible sourcing, and decent work. These trainings had an impact because most women in the Insiza district [Amazon Mining Community, Filabusi, Zimbabwe] managed to form an association called Insiza Women in Mining Association, in which they now deliberate issues that affect women in mining.
This organisation further ensured business and Human Rights. Small-scale mining operations are now registered and operate freely. Currently, I’m carrying out research on an assessment of environmental impacts on women, women living with disabilities, and children. This is going to have a positive outcome towards identifying problems that are affecting the communities and the marginalized groups. Hence, when we allocate funding, we know that we are structuring the activities that bring positive outcomes.
You are a Director of Hawkline Gold Mine and were also the first Zimbabwean woman to launch a gold fund backed by the Central Bank of Zimbabwe. What is your experience of being a woman working at such a high level in this sector? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry? What has been your most significant challenge?
The fact that I was chosen proved to be a milestone, not just for Kundai as an individual, but for women miners in Zimbabwe. It was quite an inspiration! Working with the Central Bank gave me the wings I wanted to fly and the general understanding of running a mining venture as a business entity in its entirety.
At first, I thought I had to adapt to fit in the industry, but once I got an understanding that the industry knows no gender, I started to flow with the tide as well. Acceptance from the males in the industry was the most significant challenge as you have to understand that most ASM miners are men. Hence, leading the lot is challenging at first, but once they see your potential and vision, they engage you wholeheartedly.
Further challenges were financial constraints, which now forced me to stagger the project into three phases. Currently, I’m on phase 2. This situation was caused by the Covid pandemic, which derailed the income streams.
I would like to thank my husband Royce Midzi, who has also assisted in strategising and minimising the challenges that us women face. I also have to say to men out there: Support women as well — it brings a positive change and attitude towards women in mining.
You also cofounded the Zimbabwe Mining Safety, Health and Environmental Council Trust (ZIMSHEC) in 2021. Please describe the status of health and safety issues in mining activities in Zimbabwe and why you are passionate about this topic.
Miners in and around Zimbabwe are shy of the safety issues and the dangers it brings to their lives; hence, the need for such a trust to be formulated to help them in understanding the basics and fundamentals of a safety-enabled environment. We are training proto rescue teams to attend to mine disasters, such as shaft collapse or flooding in shafts, and any dangers involved with mining activities.
Health issues are of paramount importance because a healthy body is a healthy employee. We do tuberculosis and silicosis screening in the mining sector, free of charge in partnership with Bairns and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare.
Safeguarding of the environment is also a top of priority to us and to me as an individual, for a balanced ecosystem prolongs the life of all living organisms and also contributes positively to climate change.
What makes me passionate about this topic is that mineral resources are finite, but our environment isn’t; hence, a healthy and safety-enabled working environment keeps me on my toes. We also need to safeguard our human resource in order to sustain the mining industry.
In many ways, Zimbabwe still holds very traditional attitudes regarding female roles in society. Please describe the current status of women in the mining environment (both professionals and non-professional roles). How is this changing and evolving?
True: most women in mining are either panners or cooks, although others are in professional roles as well, which range from SHE [safety, health and environment] officers to mining engineers. The girl child has been given equal opportunities to go to school and also learn courses that were rather male-dominated in the past. This situation is positively evolving and placing the women or girl child at par with any other worker or person at the same level.
What actions and programmes can mining companies implement to improve acceptance and inclusion of women in the workplace, particularly with reference to the Southern African context?
- Removing of gender-based entry-level screening processes for courses.
- Dilution of leadership in groups partaking certain activities.
- Building teams with a balance of genders.
- Shun old practices and stop referring to women as household tools and treat then as capable individuals.
- Unveil equal opportunities for all.
- Gender mainstreaming in mine value chain towards Procurement.
What are you most proud of having achieved in your career so far? What has been your most rewarding professional experience or project?
I’m proud of my career as an accountant and I’m proud to stand here and say I that have applied these accounting skills in the mining project to ensure growth and sustainability. The internal control and cost management skills I acquired from studying accounting help me to assess and come up with strategies to achieve my laid-down objectives and towards my vision, hence making an impact. This later gave birth to a trust for women in mining. I can say my profession is rewarding in a unique way.
What are you passionate about in your work and find most rewarding?
I am fascinated most with sampling of minerals onsite at my Hawkline Mine. This is also most rewarding, knowing that I am 100% in control of the recovery results at the mine.
I am also passionate about team work as well, for this means everyone is tagged along and every member feels a sense of belonging.
Please describe your personal and professional attributes that you consider have been most influential in your success.
Being an honest person has proved integral, because everyone I work with trusts me. I am also humble and down to earth, which makes me very approachable at any given time of day. Being an accountant has helped me significantly because I do most of my things “by the book” and this also helps me in keeping records.
What is your next or ultimate career goal? What would you love to do one day?
Growing from a Small-Scale Miner to a Medium-Scale Miner is my ultimate career goal and creating employment for my fellow countrymen and -women. Diversifying is what I would like to do one day: finding a new challenge that is women-oriented and tackling it.
It is important to bring new talent into this industry, particularly from diverse backgrounds and to make the workplace more inclusive. Do you have any suggestions on how to attract young girls and boys, particularly from rural communities, to enter a technical career in a science or engineering field?
I would suggest we have career guidance programmes in high schools in rural areas. These offer guidance mainly in urban areas. Let’s go to the rural areas where there are mining communities and have workshops for girl and boy children, educate them regarding the mine value chain, and hence encourage them to select a career in the industry.
Do you have any advice to young women starting out in their studies or careers in this field? What do you wish you’d known when you were 25?
I would encourage them to consult. When they see successful women, visit them and ask for guidance on how you can go about being where she is.
At 25, I wish I had known that there are vacant mining claims. I would have gone straight to finding mine finance and implementing solutions.
Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?
I enjoy going to places where nature takes its shape, with my family, and to visit resort areas to bond with my girls and husband.