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Turning junk into gold: Byo residents make a living through scrap metal collection

FOR ordinary Zimbabweans discarded steel, aluminium and other metals are nothing more than a piece of trash that needs to be disposed of at the dump site.

However, for a scrap collector Nkululelo Moyo (40) from Bulawayo’s Magwegwe North suburb, it is an opportunity to change his life for the better.

It’s an escape route from poverty for Nkululeko who collects scrap metal for a living after battling unemployment for 10 years following his retrenchment in 2007, pursuant to the Zuva Petroleum Supreme Court judgment of 2015.

The judgement stated that employers have the right to terminate employment contracts by giving employees three months’ notice.

Using a shopping trolley as a means of transport, Nkululelo’s typical day begins as early as 6:30 am as he picks up scrap, cans and bits of broken recyclable metal to sell to scrap metal dealers who then sell to recycling companies.

On a good day, he said by the time he had offloaded and dealt with the brokers, he had about $100 in his hand.

“Collecting scrap has changed my life. People made fun of me when l started off as a scrap picker. They said I should look for something better to do, but now I have gained respect from my family because l am able to put food on the table.

“Industrial and mine scrap fetch a lot of money as we sell them between US$130 and US$140 per tonne,” he said.

He said getting involved with the industry has exposed him to people and recycling operations around Bulawayo.

Scrap metal is a valuable waste product that can be recycled to make a wide range of products including the metal itself for industrial purposes.

Zimbabwe used to be one of Southern Africa’s biggest steel producers until Ziscosteel shut down its production more than a decade ago.

Investigations by this publication established that Nkululeko is among several people who collect scrap-old wires, cables, scrapped cars, washing machines, old appliances, and everything metal including cast iron sinks and sell them to dealers so they can make a dollar for themselves and their families.

Nkululeko said a lot of people were joining in on collecting scrap in order to make a living.

“Competition is now tough but with the high unemployment rate, we have to continue as scrap collectors to survive the current economic conditions,” he said.

Another scrap metal vendor, Irvine Masara (34) said he ventured into the business of collecting scrap metal around the town for resale to fend for his family.

“I started scrapping late last year after I couldn’t find a steady job and any trip to the scrap yard is a good day for me. Some weeks I earn more than US$250,” said Masara.

Isaac Ncube, who makes aluminum pots at one of the thriving informal backyard workshops in Bulawayo’s Renkini area, said he buys and melts scrap from car breakers and people who go around collecting it for resale.

 “Scrap metal collection is one of the most attractive incomes. We buy the scrap from car breakers and people who go around collecting it for resale.

“International markets are paying a fortune for the scrap metal,” said Ncube.

A scrap metal dealer Allen Moyo who operates from Kelvin West said apart from ensuring a clean and safe environment, scrap metal collection has great potential to create wealth for individuals engaged in it.

Moyo who sells most of his scrap to the Chinese companies said scrap collection was the only industry in the country where one can go to the dumpsites and look for scrap iron and make money for a living.

“This industry is the only one where a poor man can go to the dumpsites and look for scrap metal and come to us and make money. We weigh each metal and give it a value,” he said.

 “This is the only industry which has assisted every home in the country without a cent from the government. It is also important, not just because we are doing it but because of the amount of people it employs”.

This publication established that the trade has also resulted in the flooding of the US dollar on the market since the merchants are buying the scrap metal in foreign currency since merchants are buying the scrap metal in foreign currency.

Although officials at Naisonale Investments, a Chinese-owned company one of several small foundries and steel producers in Bulawayo were not at liberty to talk when our news crew visited them, in a recent interview with China Dialogue the company’s general manager Pritchard Murayirwa, said a tonne of scrap metal sells for US$150, but dealers can get up to US$300 depending on the day’s market price.

“We get scrap from big companies, some of whom have abandoned their operations, but also from individuals who have scrap to sell.” said Murayirwa.

Murayirwa told China Dialogue that Naisonale Investments, which employs about 150 workers, recycles scrap to supply steel products such as beams to the domestic construction sector. At peak output, the company produces 30 to 40 tonnes of steel per day.

Investigations by this publication unearthed that the strong demand for scrap steel is contributing to a rise in vandalism, including state-owned enterprises such as the struggling National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ).

Theft cost the railways more than US$3, 5 million last year, Martin Banda, a company spokesperson told China Dialogue recently.

Speaking at the Zimbabwe Metal Casting Indaba held in Bulawayo late last year Minister of State for Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Judith Ncube said the resuscitation of the metal industry was key in the country.

Zimbabwe has 55 metal foundries including steel plants that are operational with the other 30 being non-operational due to shortage of scrap metal and the unavailability of raw materials.

Zimbabwe Institute of Foundries (ZIF) chief operations officer, Dosman Mangisi, said although metal collection was one of the most attractive income in the country, it was, however, bleeding the economy of potential foreign currency earnings since most of the scrap metal was being sold to unscrupulous agents who then illegally export the scrap metal to countries like South Africa.

“Although scrap metal business is one of the most attractive incomes in the country, the problem is that scrap metal vendors are selling to unscrupulous agents or companies who then illegally export the scrap metal to countries like South Africa.

“This in turn bleeds the economy of potential foreign currency earnings and local foundry and steel recycling firms are having a hard time finding adequate scrap metal to feed the mills. For the past 20 years Zimbabwe lost about US$5 billion potential revenue from scrap metal to illegal exports,” said Mangisi.

Mangisi, urged the Government to ban scrap metal exports.

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