In Zimbabwe, women are looking for aquamarine
To extract aquamarine, the men said, workers first remove the plants and topsoil (setting them aside so they can be replaced later), then dig up the rock , a combination of feldspar, quartz and mica called pegmatite. Aquamarine is usually embedded in pegmatite, so women drill a few feet into the rock and then use gel explosives to detonate it. They use hammers – which weigh around 16 pounds – and chisels, jackhammers, and hand-held rock breakers to release gems.
Rumbidzai Gwinji, the coordinator of the Zimbaqua mine, said miners are always excited when they find something. “They dance, they sing,” she said, “they’re not afraid to show their emotions.”
Depending on the color, aquamarines can sell for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand US dollars per carat. Mr Rosenkrantz declined to say how much aquamarine the mine produced, but said that in April it donated just over two pounds of gemstones that could be used in fine jewelry and over 100 pounds of inferior stones. The stones are shipped to Bangkok to be cut and polished, but partners hope to train some women in the coming year to do the work there.
Even before the mine opened, the partners promised that 10% of Zimbaqua’s profits would go to community projects selected by the women. This year, a non-profit organization, Zimbaqua Vision, is being created so that the money can be used for a community center that will house a primary school, a pediatric clinic and a craft training center.
Snohetta, an architectural firm based in New York and Oslo, donates their work to design the space in partnership with a local architect. Construction is expected to begin later this year, with the expectation that the opening will take place in early 2022.
“Empowering women in mining is something that would hardly be on the radar in the West,” said Craig Dykers, a founding partner of Snohetta. “That’s one of the reasons I find him powerful; it broadens our spectrum of understanding. It’s like the thorn in a lion’s foot, it’s the smallest things that have the biggest impact.