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In the Mount Hampden region near Harare, unlicensed brick molders say the work is one of the few avenues open to them to provide for their families. Regulations against the illegal work hasn’t been enforced, and a local council charged with addressing the issue has not moved to help the molders get licenses or find ways to protect the environment.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Holes and gullies interrupted by piles of bricks are all one can see at the Mount Hampden area, where unlicensed molders dig clay and rubble each day.

Though the work is scarring the land, the brick molders say it is one of the few avenues they have to provide for their families in a country in which unemployment estimates countrywide vary from 10 percent to as much as 95 percent.

Takaiteyi Ntsango, 41, who lost his job as a fitter and turner at a copper mine in Chinhoyi, a town about 116 kilometers (72 miles) northwest of the capital, Harare, turned to brick molding to sustain his family on land that he bought for $100.

In a good month, Ntsango says, he can earn up to $200. In a bad month, it’s more like $50 or less. Even at $200, his earnings are below the $455 cited as the monthly living wage in Zimbabwe by Trading Economics, an online statistics platform that covers 196 nations.

Molding bricks without a license in Zimbabwe is unlawful. Even so, small scale, unlicensed brick molding is common here and contributes to the land’s decline, according to Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity.

The rapid demand for urban housing has led to an increase in the need for bricks and sand, the report says, and has resulted in scarring and clearing of land in peri-urban locations near Harare, such as Mount Hampden.

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An example of land degradation, a result of brick molding, in Mount Hampden near Harare, Zimbabwe on Jan. 12.

Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe

To secure a license under the regulation, Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007, a molder would have to hire a consultant to conduct and register an environmental impact assessment with Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency.

Charles Siwagwe, chairman of the Mount Hampden development committee, estimates that as many as 700 molders are active in the area. Many of them were laid off at the turn of the century from Willdale, a brick manufacturing company still in operation.

Nyasha Matonda, Willdale’s current chief executive officer, says about 500 of a 2,000-member workforce were laid off around 2002 by the former owners, and that the company continues to employ 1,500. He says the unlicensed brick molders, many of whom operate illegally on Willdale property, unfairly compete with the company because they can sell bricks for less.

The independent molders charge between $40 and $50 per 1,000 bricks, while existing companies charge $70 to $80, Ntsango says.

Munyaradzi Marambire, an economist at Green Resources, an environmental consulting company in Harare, says the market for bricks at this price differential contributes to the increase in unlicensed molders. He says the Environmental Management Agency should be following up with an environmental plan “to ensure that they are legalized and rehabilitate the areas that they have used.”

Steady Kangata, the agency’s environmental education and publicity manager, says that while the brick molders have created employment for themselves, they have failed to make efforts toward land rehabilitation.

But the agency, which is charged with providing the licenses, has relegated the issue to the local rural council in Murombedzi, about 105 kilometers (about 65 miles) away.

“We have given orders to the Zvimba Rural District Council, the responsible council for this area in Mount Hampden, to ensure that things done in the area conform to the environmental laws and provisions,” Kangata says.

The brick molders say they have not heard from the council. Molder Benard Jambezi, a former cross-border trader, says he and others would welcome help to gain licenses and to design ways to protect the environment while they continue to make bricks.

“We need to be educated on how to preserve and rehabilitate the environment,” he says.

Ntsango agrees and says there’s also a need to address safety issues, since four people, including a 2-year-old, have died by falling into pits in the last two years.

“The damage to the environment is fatal,” and it can be fatal to people as well, he says.

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Benard Jambezi molds bricks in Mount Hampden near Harare, Zimbabwe on Jan. 12, 2017.

Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe

 

Linda Mujuru, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona to English.