Friday, June 25, 2010

Where the only job to be found is in scrap metal

For some in Zimbabwe, selling scrap metal to be recycled can be the only means of making money. The process of searching for scrap metal has led to theft or vandalism of metal still being used, enough so that the practice has caught the attention of the government.

From IPS, writer Ignatius Banda introduces us to a couple of women who rely on scrap metal because they can't find other work.

Gugulethu Mkhwananzi is another one of the many unemployed women who have become features of everyday life in Bulawayo’s poor working class suburbs as she moves from house to house, looking for "rusted gold", or scrap metal.

Mkhwananzi sells whatever she finds to local scrap metal dealers. This has become her sole source of livelihood in a country where the vast majority of women are without formal employment. As she pushes the cart that she uses to collect the scrap, the physical toil is showing: Mkhwananzi looks much older than her 45 years.

Despite the taxing work, Mkhwananzi gets as little as 0.5 dollars per kg. Scrap metal dealers only buy in quantities ranging from 50 kg upwards. "What can I do?" she asks, the fatigue showing. "I have no formal education and this is the only thing I can do to feed my children," laments the sole breadwinner of a family with four children.

Judith Sibanda has also found a livelihood in selling scrap metal. For her, this has meant waking up early in the morning each day to travel to other townships to look for scrap metal. "It has become something of a proper job for me," she says.

But Mkhwananzi notes that she "has been selling scrap metal for years now but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the scrap".

This has forced her to adopt a daring-do attitude as she traverses the city’s poor working class townships. "I have learnt to befriend total strangers just to scavenge for scrap metal in their homes. Many people do not know the value of scrap metal and readily give it away," Mkhwananzi explains.

The demand for scrap metal has caused an increase in vandalism. Daring thieves now steal anything from taps to coffin handles, which are in demand due to soaring AIDS-related deaths.

Local companies have in the past lobbied the coalition government to ban the sale of scrap metal, citing as reason foundries suffering as the bulk of scrap metal was being bought for export and recycled.

According to renewable energy advocates, over 50 percent of the world’s steel production consists of the recycling of scrap metal, thus making it one of the world’s most recycled materials. This has helped cushion the ecological and environmental impacts of mining raw minerals from the ground.

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