Conrad Mwanawashe and Michael Tome
A two-year-old girl emerges from a heap of cardboard boxes by the street side.
A plastic toy-cell phone dangles around her neck as she paces towards and immediately joins her father, while dragging a pile of cardboard boxes behind her.
Talent’s father, Simbarashe Masasi a former “street kid” now living in Epworth, collects these boxes for a living, selling them to a growing recycling industry.
Masasi’s new lifestyle is pampered to an extent that he has abandoned his life on the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare and started a family in Epworth, a suburb associated with low income earners.
His story has drawn out dozens of other former “street children” who have joined the used-cardboard-box and paper reselling trade.
They are operating from an open space at the intersection of Charter Road and Leopold Takawira Street in busy and crowded downtown Harare.
“I moved out of the streets where I had been staying since I was now someone with a family. It was not good for me to continue staying in the streets so I had to find a decent home,” Masasi told Business Weekly.
“Sometimes I sleep here in town and work overnight because in the evening I will not be disturbing shoppers and traffic when I pick boxes.”
Masasi’s clients are waste recycling companies such as Cotmatech Waste Collections (CWC) who pay $35 per tonne for his cardboard boxes.
Cleaning the Streets
“We buy paper from them daily. We get paper, they get cash. Their involvement has many benefits in that they are cleaning the environment especially the downtown area (kumaTuck Shop),” said CWC managing director Abednigo Masunzambwa.
“Most of these young people were involved in illicit activities in town. They are now making decent income which keeps them off the streets.
“When they are better organised, we can then assist them with protective wear such as work suits, gumboots and dust-coats,” said Masunzambwa.
Masasi can sell 3-4 tonnes per week if he works at night, where he can conveniently drag his bags without disturbances.
“We don’t have a choice, we are working with these companies because they are the ones giving us a living,” he said.
In a country where unemployment has reached high levels, the young men have found a way to engage themselves and have gone to the extent of creating synergies with retail shops that see value in their efforts.
“Sometimes retail shops call us to collect the cardboard boxes they would have thrown away,” Malvern Magura, who has also left the streets after he started making a regular income.
Also, like his colleagues, he has since started a family and lives in Epworth.
Furthermore, the group works with the Harare City Council as they help remove garbage from the streets of a city where residents are battling to restore its old status as one of Africa’s cleanest towns.
Harare City Council corporate communications manager Michael Chideme said council was open to work with all stakeholders in waste management and recycling.
“The people collecting the cardboard boxes for recycling are doing a splendid job. We encourage them to diversify and include more materials for recycling,” said Chideme.
One of the members of the “street business” set up is 23-year-old Tatenda, a former street dweller who now wakes up from a decent home.
“It takes me about 2-3 days of hard work to make up a tonne. From the $35 that I would have been paid I buy groceries in bulk, and save for my monthly rental. I live in Epworth,” said Tatenda.
Waste management for recycling is a broad industry which includes paper, plastic, cans and PET.
The young men are mostly involved in paper.
Paper for recycling is in different forms. It can be cardboard, bond waste, newsprint or cardboard. Much of the paper is exported with sizeable quantities being channelled into tissue and egg tray manufacturing locally.
There are three significant players involved in waste paper industry with Cotmatech Waste Collections being a big player that has continued to contribute significantly to the development of waste paper industry particularly the informal channel that the young men operate from.
CWC managing director however believes that council should do more to help the young entrepreneurs as paper and other recyclable products were no longer going to dump sites.
“They should therefore engage these young people so that they can give them sites from where they can operate. The sites they operate from are a bit of an eye sore. We are helping to organise them into co-operatives,” said Masunzambwa.
Felix Jaricha, who came from Zaka, Masvingo province in search of greener pasture and is still living in the streets said the paper collection business has become his only source of livelihood.
“I am the breadwinner so I sometimes send money and groceries to my parents. When the market is paying well, I sometimes visit them. The only problem is that I am still living in the streets,” said Jaricha.
While other two-year-old kids are in nurseries, Talent is content with her plastic cellphone toy alongside her father, Masasi, as he packs another tonne of paper for the next client.