By Tinashe Mungazi
Hwange Local Board (HLB) on Wednesday descended on illegal brick moulders destroying their bricks as part of efforts to comply with an Environmental Management Agency (EMA) order to rehabilitate the damaged land.
The mining town has been grappling with an increase in illegal activities including clay soil and sand poaching leading to serious land degradation.
EMA ordered the local authority to address the land degradation issue by end of September.
The activities which have been rampant in Empumalanga, Don Bosco and Truck Stop have led to deforestation and open pits which threatened underground water pipes as well as housing infrastructure.
Councillors, council officials, politicians, mining executives and business owners have been fingered in the illegal brick moulding activities and have used desperate locals as fronts in the illegal activities.
When CITE visited Mpumalanga sewer plant area on Wednesday, a council front end loader was destroying all the bricks and used the rubble to fill up the open pits.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent national lockdown the number of illegal brick moulders swelled from a few hundred to over a thousand people due to demand for bricks and economic hardships.
It was a hive of activity as people frantically tried to salvage their bricks.
Residents who have been engaged in the activities said they livelihoods would be adversely affected as they depended solely on brick moulding following the Covid-19 outbreak which resulted in massive job losses.
Another who identified herself as Mandlovu said the brick moulding activities though deemed illegal were assisting many families to cope with the economic effects of Covid 19 arguing that government did not avail social grants to cushion them.
“I’m a single mother with two children and have been surviving on moulding bricks since 2017 right here at the Empumalanga sewer. Many families like mine have been irking a living from this and with the outbreak of Coronavirus many people became redundant and ended up joining us in an effort to survive. Had government given its citizens a grant to protect them from the economic effects like other countries the impact could have been lessened. Where am I supposed to get money to fend for my children I don’t have a husband to lean on,”
Asked if they had tried to regularise their activities with Hwange Rural District Council most of them argued that several factors such as distance and water discouraged them from pursuing the process.
“Yes we are aware of the need to regularise our operations with RDC but there are factors that hinder us such as distance and availability of water which a key ingredient in brick making.”
The affected residents called on authorities to extend the grace period to allow them to wind up operations while accusing council of not giving them a notice.
HLB, however, argued that it had given them enough notice since last year in September when the decision was taken to stop the practice.
Hwange Zanu PF politician, Reeds Dube tried in vain to convince EMA and HLB officials to give the affected moulders time to transport their bricks.
“This is wrong people were supposed to be given time to allow them to wind up operations. This is their livelihood we are talking about. Many people were now living out of brick moulding and now to suddenly destroy the only investment one has is killing the person. I have tried to engage relevant authorities to try and reason with them but without much success. Yes, in as much as what they are doing is illegal I believe there was need to give them more time,” he said.
Council boss, Ndumiso Mdlalose said the local authority acknowledged the impact of the operation however there were complying with the EMA order.
“We have begun to implement the EMA order which is buttressed by council resolutions made way back to the effect that no brick moulding activities were permitted in town. We believe we have given people enough time through various notices to wind up operations before we move in to rehabilitate the land degradation. We have availed ourselves to facilitate the regularisation of their activities with Hwange Rural District Council which is able to accommodate them. Under our laws it is not allowed to have brick moulding or making activities in an urban setup because of various reasons such as pollution, “said Mdlalose.
The bricks are in demand in Hwange, Bulawayo, Lupane, Victoria Falls and Binga were there are various housing and infrastructure expansion projects. The bricks have been selling for USD$300 for 10 000 bricks.