Zimbabwe: Urbanization unemployment a threat to the environment

By Alan S Rushesha – Six heavily-built men took turns to extract sand using shovels and huge picks before loading it in one of the heavy-duty trucks parked in the ‘desert-like’ rural areas of Seke in Chitungwiza.

SandOne of them stops for a while to wipe off sweat with the back of his hand.Though his face showed signs of dizziness, he was neither at a point to call it quits nor resting as he quickly resumed loading pit sand into the ‘unroadworthy’ blue truck with visibly worn out tyres. After having a few solid hours of labouring, the driver of the dilapidated lorry in company of his un-shirted ‘labouring ants’ drove off whilst putting on a smile as if they have won a lotto jackpot, leaving behind large soccer field sized holes stretching a few kilometers deep into Seke rural areas.

Their mission is to deliver the poached sand to potential buyers in the new stands of Chitungwiza and other surrounding suburbs without being hooked by the long arm of the law. And this marks the beginning of a busy day for brick moulders, brick layers and dura-wall casters as they have to scramble for the mined sand just soon after receiving frequent deliveries from the sand poachers.

“I rely heavily on pit sand and river sand to mould bricks which are on demand.”A lot of people rush to buy my bricks which are fetching like stones,”said one brick moulder. When this reporter visited one of the dura-wall casting sites in Chitungwiza, interviewed Mr Itai Mavaraidze who quickly calculated the consumption levels of sand at his premise per week.

“On a busy week, I am forced to order three to four lorry-loads of sand,” he said. Due to massive urbanization activities underway in Chitungwiza, the situation has even forced illegal sand poachers to mine ‘more than nature can provide’. Evidence is mounting that urbanization patterns in Chitungwiza could possibly undermine the sustainable development theory due to excessive takings of resources.

A borrowed definition for sustainable development from Brundtland Report,1987 reads : “it is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

One wonders what will happen to the environment in the next decades to follow.  Pit sand and river sand are commonly used for building purposes and due to its overwhelming demand, it has encouraged sand poaching at the expense of the environment. But is it worthy to destroy the environment over a lorry-load of sand which fetches between $50 and $80 depending on the quality of the brim?

“If you consider environmental issues as more important than fending your family, then you have to think again.  “I pocket a few dollars home which is not even enough to send my children to school through selling sand to construction companies and other individuals,” said Chrispen Mavhanga, one of the sand poachers who seemed to have turned a selectively blind eye to the environment. Meanwhile, as the rainy-season drew nearer, evidence is accumulating that residents both in Seke rural areas and Chitungwiza are now living in fear that the extensive damage to the environment could trigger their children and livestock to drown into the pits caused by sand poaching.

“Soon, the trenches created by this greedy people (sand poachers) will be filled with rain water exposing our children into danger of drowning,” said Sekuru Vambe of Chitungwiza’s Unit P.

According to a survey conducted by this reporter, nearly every year local media carries a story of individuals who drown in water bodies especially during rain seasons. Meanwhile, efforts to get a comment from communications chief at Environment Management Authority Mr Steady Kangata did not bring any fruition as his mobile number was not reachable during the time of publication.

The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Francis Nhema, once condemned the practice saying mining of sand has also been responsible for eroding any gains from the land reform exercise, as agricultural land was riddled with holes.

A sociologist Mr David Nenzou said lack of employment in the country has forced people to venture into illegal activities. “High unemployment rates have caused illegal activities such as sand poaching to take place. “That is the easiest way for anyone to bring food on the table. But the law should work tirelessly in controlling these activities,” he added. Yet still, people continue to milk more than the motherland can produce.