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Delve into ASM: Interview with Pauline Mundia, Zambia Country Coordinator and Ambassador, Virtu Gem

Pauline Mundia
 Delve  by Delve

Delve into ASM is an interview series that highlights the perspectives of professionals and experts in artisanal and small-scale mining as they reflect on data, trends, and the future of the sector.
In a lead up to the publication of the 2023 State of the ASM Sector report which will focus on ASM’s contribution to SDG 5: Gender Equality, Delve is featuring the voices of women in the industry through its interview series.

Who is Pauline Mundia and how did you get involved in the artisanal and small-scale (ASM) mining sector?

I am Zambian, married, and a mother of three, as well as a grandmother of six. Before becoming a mine owner, I worked as a personal secretary for both the government and private sector for a total of 14 years.

In 1987, my father invited me to become a director and shareholder in the company he wanted to incorporate. This led to the formation of Chipazuba Company Limited in February 1987, with the main objective of mining amethyst in the famous Mapatizya amethyst mining belt. In 1988, Chipazuba Company Limited was granted its first mining license. I was the only woman in the company and the youngest in a company of directors.

Although I had no prior knowledge of mining, I decided to resign from my position as personal secretary in 1989 after participating in the International Colored Stone Association conference and auction in Sri Lanka. I became the managing director of Chipazuba Company Limited in 1990 and was eager to learn more about mining. I attended short courses and workshops in mining, acquired financial literacy and basic entrepreneurship skills, and learned about marketing of gemstones.

In 2005, I was awarded with the Presidential Exporters Award in the Category Highest Female Small to Medium Exporter of the Year. In 2015 I received a second award for Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in the male dominated category of Industry Mining.

Due to health reasons, I was no longer able to operate the mine in 2020 and decided not to renew my mining license. Instead, I focus on value addition and running my small farm. With my vast experience in ASM, I am often contracted as local consultant to assist on issues pertaining to gemstones in the ASM sub-sector. I have provided consulting services to Kuumba Company, Pact, and currently, I am the Zambia country coordinator and ambassador for Virtu Gem.

I have recently applied for an artisanal mining license for lithium in the Mapatizya amethyst mining belt and look forward to contributing to the achievement of clean energy.

You were appointed as the first woman board member of Kariba Minerals Limited, the biggest amethyst mine in Zambia and Africa. How did you overcome barriers or gender stereotypes that you encountered in your career and what are the skills and qualities that you think are essential for being a pioneer?

Being the only woman and the youngest on a board of a very big company was not an easy experience for me. I remember during my first meeting, I sat next to a member who was smoking heavily, and the smoke was negatively affecting me. When I politely asked him to stop smoking, he refused, saying that no woman tells him to stop smoking in a meeting. However, I stood my ground because I was aware of my human rights, and eventually, other senior board members came to my aid. That board member never attended any further meetings because of me. To me, this was a significant achievement.

Being the only woman on that board made me realize that there is no difference between a man's and a woman's brain. A woman can achieve what a man can achieve if she is assertive, focused, knowledgeable about her role, able to learn from her seniors, and able to persevere through all odds. I always hoped that tomorrow would be better than today.

How do you mentor or support other women in ASM?

I have been fortunate to support other women in ASM in marketing their gemstones. As a board member of Kariba Minerals, I had the privilege of being exposed to well-renowned gemstone buyers. I also introduced women to international Gemstone Trade Fairs. When I was Secretary General of the Association of Zambian Women in Mining, with the support of OXFAM, I spearheaded the identification of candidates to undertake a gemstone bead-making course at the Ndola Gemstone Processing Lapidary Training Center. Twenty young women were identified throughout the country and eventually became members of the association. Right now, out of the 20 two have applied for mining licenses to mine gemstones. One was recently elected as vice treasurer of the Women in Mining association.

Regrettably, a significant number of women lack fundamental gemological knowledge, particularly in the areas of sorting, grading, and valuing of gemstones. As a result, many women in ASM are vulnerable to being exploited by gemstone brokers.

As the Virtu Gem ambassador, I have had the opportunity to visit many parts of Zambia where women are involved in ASM activities. For example, the CRAFT code has given me the opportunity to advise women on the best mining practices. The Virtu Gem mine to market concept has linked women ASM miners to jewelers, bypassing the brokers. The business structure that Virtu Gem developed during Covid-19 is attractive to western jewelers who want to be connected to the people in the ASM communities they source from. They gain assurance that their gemstone purchases are benefiting people rather than western corporations. The ASM miners benefit from higher margins for their gemstone sales.

As a consultant with Pact, I have been able to help many women benefit from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) training guide for gemstone artisanal miners in the Lufwanyama and Lundazi mining areas.

You’ve held many impressive positions in mining including treasurer for the association of Zambian women in mining, president of the federation of small-scale mining associations of Zambia, secretary-general of the association of Zambian women in mining, and many more. What are some of the current or future trends that you see in the ASM sector and how do you contribute to them?

There is an increasing awareness of the importance of minerals in Zambia, and several women, including youth, are taking a keen interest in being active players in the ASM sub-sector. Previously, only men were involved in mining.

The main role of associations is to lobby and advocate for better policies that can advance and develop ASM in Zambia. So far, we have achieved the following:

  • An ASM desk has been established at the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Development to address issues pertaining to ASM.
  • A separate tax regime for ASM has been introduced. Previously, both ASM and LSM were paying the same tax rates.
  • A mineral market center for gold panners and miners in the ASM is in the process of being established.

  • Through collaboration with Virtu Gem, the Federation of Small-Scale Mining Associations of Zambia, and the Ndola Gemstone Processing Lapidary Training Center, a Zambia National Gem cut was unveiled during the recent Africa Gemstone Jewelry Exhibition and Conference in Ndola. The cut will give identity to Zambian gemstones on the international market. The cut is in the shape of a flying eagle, which is a common feature of the nation symbolizing the ability to rise. Gemstone ASM miners wishing to have their gemstones cut are free to use the national gem cut.

What unique potential do you see in the ASM sector?

ASM operations are widespread throughout Zambia, making it a potential driver of rural economic development. By creating jobs in rural areas, ASM has the potential to reduce the migration of people from rural to urban areas. This, in turn, can lead to the creation of other industries, a market for agricultural products, infrastructure development, increased tax compliance, and higher export earnings. Most importantly, it can improve the livelihoods of ASM mining communities by alleviating poverty. However, to achieve these goals, a stand-alone policy for ASM is needed that promotes and supports appropriate technology, environmental issues, and markets for all minerals.

Even those who have machinery tend to have older equipment and cannot afford to fix it when it breaks down or pay for fuel to run it.
Pauline Mundia

If you had to describe the ASM sector in 3 words, what would those be?


What are your hopes and expectations for ASM?

I hope and expect that ASM will receive more targeted research focused on its growth and development as a sub-sector of the mining industry. This research is a crucial component of advocacy efforts aimed at promoting the interests of ASM.

What advice do you have for a future generation of professionals working in the ASM sector? Are there important skills, experiences, geographies, thematic areas that you would call out?

To fully understand ASM, it is crucial to consider the entire value chain and approach it from a perspective that aligns with one's skills and interests. It is not necessary for everyone to be involved in mining; there are other processes, such as polishing gemstones or processing gold, that one can engage with. ASM is a knowledge-intensive sector, and it is crucial to seek geological information to understand the occurrence of minerals; otherwise, a lot of hard-earned money can be lost. Due diligence is also essential to identify the beneficial owners of entities that wish to partner with you in your business, thereby avoiding risks or even being on the losing end of a transaction when all the advantages are in your favor.

Finally, it is important to note that ASM is not a permanent state. Some of the largest mining conglomerates, such as FQM, began as ASM operations. Like in boxing, it should not be one's ambition to remain a featherweight. To succeed in ASM, one needs patience, knowledge, persistence, and the ability to seize opportunities and form partnerships. These are some of the essential ingredients for success.


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