waste recyclingbty

Compiled by ZNCJ.ORG

Interviews of women surviving as waste pickers in Chinhoyi Mashonaland Central

MASHONALAND WEST – More women are now involved in waste picking as means of survival. The job is an extreme health hazard and poses bodily injury that may be life threatening in some cases.

In the name converting trash into cash, the reality and plight of the waste pickers is that they are working in extremely hazardous environments. The women trash pickers do not have protective clothing as well as necessary gear and equipment to perform efficiently in a safe environment.

These waste picking women are making 5cents ($0.05) per every kilogram they are picking. Now its up to you the reader to get a clear picture of the painstaking work these women are going through their daily lives for survival.

This investigation is set out to expose the human condition behind the so called “turning trash into cash”, the truth of the matter is that women and children are physically suffering just to get the job done in this value chain of recyclables.

This reporter interacted with women waste pickers in Chinhoyi and Chegutu, all under Mashonaland West Province in Zimbabwe.

To a considerable extent, it is a rip off deal for the women since they do all the challenging work, but they walk away with close not enough money even to afford accommodation or even buy food.

Private companies in Zimbabwe are buying all these recyclables and shipping them off to neighbouring South Africa where 30 tonnes of waste aluminium cans are fetching $6,500.

Chinhoyi | The story of Mai Mona and her Teenage Daughter

Picture this, a middle-aged woman with a pubescent daughter sieving through dirt, sometimes they come across condom wrappers, used sanitary pads and even syringes…what could they be searching for and is the work worth the trauma?

To go straight into the matter, the private companies that are buy the recyclable materials from the trash pickers – have a corporate responsibility to finance a safe working environment.

These vulnerable women are surviving in the margins of society in Chinhoyi. Little attention is paid to their welfare since there is stigma associated with the line of work, especially as women. The irony is mind boggling but it is the truth. Neighbours might be living two separate worlds…socially and economically.

Unfortunately, the women and young adult girls are working under extremely difficult conditions to salvage the waste for collectibles and recycling material and sometimes food whilst they are working through the dumps.

This reporter visited a dump site in Chinhoyi, Makonde district along the Chegutu road where women and their teenage girls are working for more than 10 hours a day, salvaging the dumpsite for recyclable materials.

The investigation was focused on the most vulnerable waste pickers, mainly women and children and we had the opportunity to interview them whilst they were salvaging in rubbish dumps.

The pain and suffering in Mai Mona are a true-life story of a struggling woman and her children making a living from the trash picking. Speaking to Mai Mona, this reporter sensed the immediate stigma and discrimination associated with waste recyclers.

Mai Mona does not have secure accommodation, she sometimes squats at a friend’s house in St Irves, which is not big enough to accommodate herself, her daughter, and the owners of the shelter.

Without protective clothing, her hands have open cut from razor sharp bottles and other objects. Draped in rugged clothes and torn foot gear drenched in grease, the site an eyesore…One can see how the job is painful hell.

The shame in Mai Mona’s speaking to the journalist could tell the story of her struggle.

Mai Mona was driven by desperation to feed and shelter her children. It started off when she would secretly scavenge rubbish bins for food and materials to make temporary shelter, since she was homeless.

Homeless and starving, she realised an opportunity to make just under $3 used a day working between 10 -12 hours. It is pain staking work that involves injury nearly almost in every shift.

“I came into this line of work due to my living conditions. We were homeless with my adolescent daughter when we started living as recyclers…We started off looking for food and cardboards to make temporary shelter in the nearby bushes.”

Translated from Shona to English

Private recycling companies from Harare often exploit the waste pickers for cheap labour. From what we noticed the waste pickers are underpaid for the work and material they provide buyers.

The trash pickers are paid $50 per tonne of recyclable material particularly aluminium cans. The value chain is pure exploitation considering the working conditions of the waste pickers and how they continue to languish in poverty.

The Environment Management Agency (EMA) often visits the dumpsite dwellers for educational campaigns.

“We can not just ignore the ongoing situation, as a town we already have a poor waste management plan… We have taken up the task to understand how waste recyclers are working at the dump site and help with education campaigns to create awareness on environmental management “

Mashonaland West Environmental Management Agency Education and Publicity Officer Munyaradzi Nhariswa

As the interaction progressed, the investigation wanted to understand how female hygiene a challenge for women and girls was working under such conditions.

The job requires them to be at the centre of all sorts of rubbish, covered in hands smeared with greasy unknown rotting garbage. It is difficult for a woman to go and relieve herself freely especially when working through the garbage.

A woman pointed out that she was worried about her female reproductive health. She complained about handling her genitals because there is no water to rinse or wash.

In worst case scenarios, the women cannot afford sanitary wear and clean water.

After the pain stacking work, some of the elderly women and men are too frail to retire back to their homes. They are forced to build makeshift shelters at the waste dumps where they spend most of their days.

They are always in numbers, more than 40 people working on the dumpsite. In worst case scenarios due to the special needs of women, girls, and children – this group of waste pickers is always at risk of sexual exploitation.

As told by Mai Mona’s youngest sister who chose to remain anonymous, sometimes she is tempted to find a man to care for her needs and its humiliating and dehumanising that most the needs are toiletries and food.

Older men usually take advantage of the women and girls and provide for their needs in turn for sexual favours, mostly unprotected sex.

The ordeal worsens, because the women are exposed to sexually transmitted infections where they fear the stigma of seeking medical health care.

The infected will always opt for treating the STI with herbs and concoctions from witch doctors. The concoction of herbs (Guchu)popular among the men is the go-to remedy for STIs.

The shame and stigma are what brings the community to live a world apart from society. in hindsight, the waste collectors are excluded from other socio-economic benefits that Zimbabwe can offer.

They have limited access to basic health care and other economic opportunities such as formal employment or socialisation.

Mai Mona’s oldest daughter left school when she was in form two after failing to pay school fees.

This is another case of an uncertain future for the girl child in society. Her sole wish to be married at age 17-year-old is a world apart from what other societies deem normal.

“At this point if I get married, I will ease the burden on my mother to take care of me”.

17-year-old girl

The investigating reporter, had to remain morally and ethically astute as Mai Mona’s sister expressed her vulnerability. In an awkward and jokingly manager, she offered herself only to be rescued from her situation and squalid living conditions.

Translated from Shona to English “You can make me your small house, as long as I leave this place… I will take diligent care of you,” she chuckled shyly with tears in her eyes.

Desperate for a man to take care of her needs, the girl is left exposed to sex predators.

During the investigation, the reporter met up with self-confessed see predators, who boasted of how it is cheap to get sex from the desperate women. 

The group of men who were sharing a 200ml of illicit cane spirit said, it is pointless for them to get into steady relationships with women and girls. They say it is difficult for them to lead committed family life due to poverty and slum like living conditions hence they use the women to gratify immediate sexual desires. 

Desperate for a meal, shelter, and toiletries – women and girls are trapped in the abyss of sexual violence that is hellish like. Depraved men of low self-esteem disrespect their sexual purity and female integrity.

There is a gleamer of hope for Mai Mona, her daughter and younger sister if their work becomes recognised by society. Immediate community has the moral obligation to let go of stigma and discrimination against waste pickers.

There is need for regulatory framework. For their industry that needs to be monitored to counter exploitation of the waste pickers. The big recycling companies are making a fortune from cheap labour the waste pickers.

If you support independent community focused journalism in Zimbabwe, you are welcome to donate towards ZNCJ.ORG fund to provide reporting grants for investigative stories like this.

Click here to make your donation or contact our administrator for more inquiries.

User Avatar

By Richard Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.