First Bank

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Impoverished Zimbabweans turn to scrap metal trade as inflation bites

It is 11 a.m. and Shepherd Chowe has arrived at a scrap yard where dozens of other metal pickers await to sell their wares.

For two sacks, Chowe gets paid $6.

Chowe has cart filled with tins, iron rods and other metallic objects that he coolected in Hopley, a poor settlement about 15 km west of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

"I start moving around the township at 8 am when families are up. My job entails asking people to sell their scrap metal or anything metallic they are not using anymore. We always negotiate the price before coming here to sell. I can take care of my family through this business; I get $40 per day or less. Although it is tough, I can provide for them. Scrap metal has given us hope" Chowe said.

Chowe is among Zimbabweans selling scrap metal for survival as the cost of living soars, piling pressure on a population already facing food shortages and high unemployment, stirring memories of economic chaos years ago under veteran leader Robert Mugabe's near four-decade rule.

Annual inflation, which hit 256.9% in July, has cast a shadow over President Emmerson Mnangagwa's bid to revitalise the economy.

By selling scrap metal, Chowe can afford to pay rent, buy food and pay school fees for his two daughters.

Zimbabwe's steel industry has been struggling since the collapsed of the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Ziscosteel) more than a decade ago.

However, in recent years, small steel producers working with scrap yard dealers are picking up the pieces.

"These metal pickers help the steel industry which we supply. Sometimes they lack money to pay us but the metal is always available. I have been supplying steel makers for years now," scrap yard owner Fungai Mataga said, as workers loaded metal into a truck headed for Kwekwe in the Midlands, the home of steel manufactures.

Mataga buys cast iron for $0.15 per kg and mild steel $0.22 per kg from scavengers.

The scrap metal trade is not illegal in Zimbabwe, but has raised concerns about vandalism of infrastructure including that of state-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe, which has called for the trade to be regulated.

Nineteen-year-old Mike Mavhunga arrives with a sack of tins to weigh for payment. Every day he wakes up at 5 a.m. to walk 10 km to Glen Norah, a township west of Harare, his hunting ground for metal.

“My aim to get at least two bags of scrap metal which gives me $6. But on a rough day, I get $1 or $1.50. Like to today, it was tough but going forward I will worker harder to get more. This is how I survive, Mavhunga said.”


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