SPECIAL REPORT

Amid High Unemployment, One Man Creates Wheelbarrow Cooperative To Employ Others

 
 
Welders show the wheelbarrows they make from scrap metal and other materials in Makokoba, a suburb of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Linda Chinobva, GPJ Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe’s deteriorating economy, individuals laid off from work are starting their own companies to survive. In 2011, Cornwell Nyamande noticed that there was an untapped market for wheelbarrows and started a small cooperative that has employed several people and helped provide capital for other small businesses.

BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE — In 2010, when Cornwell Nyamande was laid off from his job at a local brewing company, Ingwebu Breweries, he took a year off. The sabbatical from the job market gave him time to reflect.

Nyamande, 33, came to accept that the end of his corporate job meant it was time to start thinking differently about market needs. He noticed that the surge in artisanal mining meant that many people were looking for wheelbarrows around Bulawayo, and he knew that creating jobs would be a community service as many were out of work.

Nyamande decided to begin a community-based wheelbarrow manufacturing cooperative. Without formal training, the former brewer taught himself how to weld wheelbarrows, and a year later he brought in four unemployed youth.

“They approached me and told me their plight of unemployment, and we agreed that we would work together in the project,” he says.

Since then they have made enough to feed their families and pay rent and school fees. They buy some of the materials, but they also recycle scrap metals discarded by other businesses and take advantage of wheelbarrow prices. In local retail shops, wheelbarrows cost about $100, and the group prices their wheelbarrows to sell at $75 a piece.

Without formal training, the former brewer taught himself how to weld wheelbarrows, and a year later he brought in four unemployed youth.

On average, the group sells between five and seven wheelbarrows a month and averages about $500 before expenses, Nyamande says.

When Nyamande began the project in 2011, he says business was flourishing as some local mining companies and construction companies would place orders.

Lately the cooperative has faced some challenges, including other people who have had a similar idea.

“Although we are getting a few cents out of this project, we are faced with challenges that have come in the way of production. The greatest challenge we have faced is the competition from other people who have since started welding wheelbarrows,” Nyamande says.

“From the time we started this project, quite a number of people started welding and this has stood as a challenge to us because we are no longer in the limelight,” he says. “Instead we are drowning in competition.”

Many Zimbabweans, like Nyamande and the others working on the wheelbarrow cooperative, have lost jobs as economic conditions have deteriorated. Unemployment estimates range wildly in Zimbabwe. The website of the national statistics agency, Zimstat, lists unemployment at 11.3 percent as of 2014, but other sources differ. The CIA World Factbook estimates that unemployment together with underemployment was as high as 95 percent as of 2009 and that some 72 percent lived below the poverty line as of 2012.  “True unemployment is unknown and, under current economic conditions, unknowable,” it states.

In an attempt to revive local industry in 2016, the Mugabe administration restricted imports of many products, including beds, doors, gates and wheelbarrows.

Several of the wheelbarrow cooperative workers are using profits from current work to begin new businesses.

Innocent Mazango, who was laid off from a Harare security company, says the project has helped him afford school fees for his two children.

“For a while my children stopped going to school as I could not afford to take them because I had no means of getting money,” he says.

Although we are getting a few cents out of this project, we are faced with challenges that have come in the way of production. The greatest challenge we have faced is the competition from other people who have since started welding wheelbarrows.

Thomas Dzingai, another welder in the cooperative, says funds generated through selling wheelbarrows have enabled him to start another small business.

“When I lost my job in 2010, my situation was hopeless until I came across the other men I work with now. When I started welding wheelbarrows, I managed to save a few dollars and started a poultry business to complement the money I was getting from the wheelbarrow project,” he says.

Samson Madzore, a plumber, said that since he started welding with the group, he has been able to provide his wife with seed money for her vegetable and fruit stall.

“So far we are able to take care of our family from the money we are getting from both projects,” he says.

Tawanda Dzingai, brother of Thomas and a member of the wheelbarrow collective, urges other unemployed youth to think creatively.

“As youth we have been promised jobs by the government, but it has been to no avail,” he says. “Unemployed youth should discover their talents and make something out of them to generate money because at the end of the day we need money to sustain us.”

 

Linda Chinobva, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona and Ndebele.