27 April 2014

Zimbabwe: Chitungwiza Demolitions - Builders, Crushers Hit Hard

Informal workers employed in the construction sector in Chitungwiza have been hit by hard times since the ministry of local government instituted a land probe in the town last year.

Over the past years Chitungwiza had experienced a boom in construction due to illegal parcelling of land within the town and in Seke rural.

This provided an opportunity to unemployed people who got jobs as manual labourers and suppliers of building materials such as three-quarter stones, bricks and sand.

However, many have been left jobless as people have stopped construction due to fear of demolitions. Those greatly affected include stone crushers, brick layers and brick moulders, as well as suppliers of building materials such as cement and sand.

Simon Gondo (32) of Unit O who manually crushes bold granite stones into three-quarter stones in Mabamba Heights, said the issue of demolitions had greatly affected their work as people were no longer coming to buy the stones.

"Before the issue of demolitions started, I used to sell 60 wheelbarrows of three-quarter stones but nowadays it is really difficult as I can go for a month without making any sale," said Gondo.

Gondo, who takes care of his wife and two children, one of whom is now in Grade Zero, added that he has been reduced to a pauper since the start of the land probe and had now been forced to resort to "piece" jobs.

One brick moulder in Riverside along Seke Road said that his business had been paralysed by the lack of customers as most new home constructions have been stopped.

"Demolition threats have greatly affected my brick sales as I used to sell more than 1 000 blocks but now I can sell once in a month. I am also facing problems with customers who had taken bricks on credit as they are nowhere to be found," he said.

Many informal brick moulders had set up shop in Chitungwiza and Seke as there was high demand from the booming construction which was taking place in the town, Chitsvatsva and other surrounding areas.

An unlicensed stone blaster who works in Mabamba Heights, a suburb that was set up by alleged land baron Fredrick Mabamba, said that he used to make US$60 a day but his business had gone down significantly.

"The land probe is eating into our profits; in fact, this has negatively affected all informal workers who live on construction work in this town. Many of my colleagues who used to live decent lives are now suffering," said the stone blaster.

A brick layer only identified as Fonso (30), said that life had become tough for him and his collegues as building jobs have since disappeared due to the demolition threats by the ministry of local government.

"I used to get brick laying jobs in Chitsvatsva and other areas, but this has since stopped because most of the home-owners are afraid to finish their houses. They are not certain about their future," said Fonso.

It is not only informal traders that have been affected by the pending demolitions. Hardware shops in Chitungwiza have also been affected. Stingmore Chikoneka (24) who works at Pick and Build Centre, a cement trader in Riverside said cement sales had dropped drastically and this was now affecting their salaries.

"Our salaries had to be cut from US$180 to US$150 due to the poor sales. We used to sell 50 bags per day but now we are selling less than 20," said Chikoneka.

Zimbabwe has a high rate of unemployment which is believed to be at over 90% and many people have been confined to work in the informal sector. Chitungwiza is among the worst affected areas as most industries in the town were closed at the height of the economic crunch.

Chitungwiza's informal construction industry is said to have become a major sector as it provided a life-line for many unemployed people and most of the construction workers hope that the issue of demolitions will be dealt with soon so that they know what the future has in store for them.

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