The dump­site is our gold mine

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Big Read - Obey Sibanda Fea­tures Re­porter

AT the crack of dawn ev­ery morn­ing, 42-year-old Ms Nom­sizi Mauto drags her­self out of her shack at Bu­l­awayo’s in­fa­mous Ngozi Mine dump­ing site and joins scores of job­less women, who sift through piles of garbage to col­lect valu­ables.

Ms Mauto — a qual­i­fied teacher — says she could not be ab­sorbed into the pro­fes­sion she trained for after Gov­ern­ment froze re­cruit­ment and went into dump­site scroung­ing “where there is in­fin­itely more money to be made.”

“In a good month, I can make about $2 000 from what peo­ple throw away. I might fall sick be­cause the con­di­tions are un­hy­gienic, but my chil­dren are well taken care of,” she says and ca­su­ally glances at urchins run­ning around the dump.

Ms Mauto looks older than her age and the el­e­ments have scorched her skin to a leath­ery black­ness. Dirty, bare­footed chil­dren — who know no world be­side the garbage heap — sprint along the dusty waste­land, their raggedy cloth­ing flap­ping un­der the scorch­ing sun.

Ms Mauto is part of a group that re­lo­cated from Harare to take ad­van­tage of rel­a­tively un­crowded dump­sites in Bu­l­awayo. In groups of fours, mainly made up of women, teams scrounge through moun­tains of smelly garbage.

The re­sult of their sweat is sold to waste man­age­ment com­pa­nies in Harare. The end prod­uct is sup­plied to dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers who use it to make jeans, car­pets, ten­nis balls and other stuff that finds its way back to the coun­try’s mar­kets as new prod­ucts. Ms Mauto and her col­leagues how­ever, sift through the site with­out pro­tec­tive cloth­ing. It is back break­ing work done at a snail’s pace in the un­bear­able sum­mer heat.

In their hands are metal rods which they use to gather pieces of tin, plas­tic, glass and bones. They sort out the garbage with their bare hands. An in­ces­sant buzz of green-flies pro­vides a sort of back­ground mu­sic as they sep­a­rate ma­te­rial such as plas­tic con­tain­ers, glass and pa­per. When it be­comes too dark to work, they push the un­wanted items into a pit and burn it to avoid breed­ing of germs.

“We can af­ford to hire trucks to take the stuff to Harare where it fetches higher prices. The lo­cal In­for­mal Re­cy­cling As­sis­tants (IRA) are paid peanuts. We link them to Harare peo­ple to boost our profits,” she says, wip­ing a dark sweat streak­ing smudge from her brow.

“The work is filthy and de­grad­ing but come to think of it, there are no bosses here, we make our own monies. It’s about see­ing the sil­ver lin­ing on ev­ery cloud,” she says, ap­pear­ing im­mune to the over­pow­er­ing stench at the dump­site. lawyer and Pan-African­ist Issa Gu­lamhus­sein Shivji can claim to have fore­seen the ex­haus­tion of Marx­ism and the rise of philoso­phies of lib­er­a­tion that are rooted in the his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences of the peo­ples of the Global South. A Prod­uct of Strug­gles In African his­tory Tan­za­nia has a spe­cial place as a coun­try that gave shel­ter to ex­iles, gueril­las, fugi­tives, refugees and lead­ers of the lib­er­a­tion move­ments of yes­ter­year.

To­gether with the Mak­erere Uni­ver­sity of Uganda, the Uni­ver­sity of Dar Es Salaam be­came a site for the flour­ish of rad­i­cal African lib­er­a­tion schol­ars and in­tel­lec­tu­als.

As Ali Mazrui has re­vealed, there was a time in the in­tel­lec­tual life of Africa when not be­ing a Marx­ist had the sta­tus of the anti-Christ and car­ried a heavy stigma. In­tel­lec­tu­als were a cen­tral plank of the African lib­er­a­tion move­ment; hence the bois­ter­ous claim by Mazrui that there was not go­ing to be any Pan-African­ism if there was no in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism in Africa, a view that cred­its African in­tel­lec­tu­als with a cen­tral role in de­coloni­sa­tion strug­gles.

Even as a very young scholar, Issa Shivji ques­tioned Marx­ism at its pe­riod of high­est flour­ish and pop­u­lar­ity in Africa. He wrote widely de­bated opinion pieces in the Tan­za­nian press ques­tion­ing Julius Ny­erere’s Uja­maa ver­sion of so­cial­ism, at a time when Ny­erere’s in­tel­lec­tual and po­lit­i­cal voice was law in Africa. Provoca­tively and much crit­i­cally, Shivji has prob­lema­tised the role of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions in Africa un­mask­ing their com­plic­ity in late im­pe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ity. The con­cept of democ­racy it­self, its gen­er­al­i­sa­tions and sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, have also found their re­but­tal in Shivji who be­lieves that Africa has enough his­tor­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual

The hot air is rot­ten with the stench of de­com­po­si­tion, which is made to seem alive by the con­stant dron­ing of flies. Ngozi Mine is home to Bu­l­awayo’s largest rub­bish dump, the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion for the tonnes of waste the city pro­duces ev­ery day and also a home to home­less peo­ple.

One will be for­given for mis­tak­ing the dump­site for a nor­mal set­tle­ment. Sprawl­ing shanty huts lean cheek by jowl around a huge heap of garbage. Be­yond the flimsy shacks, lie ditches and pools of filthy, stag­nant wa­ters, con­ducive to the breed­ing of a par­tic­u­larly vi­cious strain of mos­qui­toes.

“It may be dif­fi­cult to be­lieve, but this is where we make our liv­ing,” Ms Mauto says.

She dips a piece of garbage into the pu­trid wa­ter and in­di­cates all the “rub­bish” is washed there be­fore trans­porta­tion to the cap­i­tal.

“We are en­trepreneurs who turn the huge waste peo­ple pro­duce ev­ery day into money-mak­ing prod­ucts,” she says.

She works as she speaks be­cause: “Time is money.” Mr Bon­gani Dube, a city coun­cil of­fi­cer who works at the dump­site, said peo­ple in the past found con­ve­nient to dump their garbage in unau­tho­rised dump­sites, which ended up block­ing drains and caus­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards.

“Res­i­dents are be­com­ing more en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble buy turn­ing waste into money. It’s such a bril­liant idea that profits their pock­ets and the en­vi­ron­ment at the same time,” said Ndlovu.

“While it may not be one of the most pop­u­lar business ideas out there, a few smart Zim­bab­weans are al­ready amass­ing wealth from waste and cre­at­ing jobs for fel­low coun­try­men,” he said.

Mkhu­l­uli Ndlovu, a man who has lived at the dump­site for more than 10 years re­marked: “Con­sid­er­ing the mag­ni­tude of un­avail­abil­ity of jobs and com­pany clo­sures, there is no doubt of the pos­i­tive role that Ngozi Mine dump­site plays in cre­at­ing jobs for hun­dreds of poor fam­i­lies.”

Na­tional Waste Col­lec­tions (NWC) Bu­l­awayo branch op­er­a­tions con­troller Mr De­sire Ndudzo ob­served that there was brisk business in waste man­age­ment de­pend­ing on what one was col­lect­ing.

“Waste man­age­ment peo­ple are the last peo­ple to be out of business. As long as com­pa­nies are still func­tion­ing and waste is pro­duced we will be in business. Scavengers need to pick the ma­te­rial that can be re­cy­cled by waste man­age­ment com­pa­nies,” said Ndudzo.

De­spite the fact that some en­trepreneurs like Mauto are mak­ing a killing from the sale of garbage, some lo­cal en­trepreneurs are reel­ing in poverty. The suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs thrive on the mis­for­tune of oth­ers, mak­ing un­favourable deals with the poor and des­per­ate to im­prove their bot­tom lines.

“We are forced to sell our prod­ucts to those with con­tacts and mar­kets in the cap­i­tal. These buy­ers are now set­ting prices that are very low to us the lo­cal peo­ple who take waste man­age­ment as the sole saver from chains of poverty,” said Mr Nku­l­uleko Ncube.

Ms No­math­emba Moyo weighed in say­ing poverty has left them with no op­tion and sell­ing their prod­ucts at a low price was the only way they could get some money to buy ba­sic needs.

“We don’t have means of trans­port­ing the ma­te­rial to Harare so we are forced to sell our prod­ucts for peanuts to the mid­dle­men who take all the profit and none of the risk,” she said.

En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Agency (Ema), Bu­l­awayo pro­vin­cial man­ager Mr De­cent Ndlovu

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