Breaking News

Scavenging for a living

Written by  Tikondane Vega
Men collecting garbage at Mzedi dumping site. Pic by Francis Mphweya. Men collecting garbage at Mzedi dumping site. Pic by Francis Mphweya.

BLANTYRE, January 30: Travelling from Limbe in Blantyre to Zomba, just past the populous Kachere Township, one is greeted to a pungent smell that comes so strong to the nose that it may as well block it.

 

This irritating smell comes from the right-hand side of the road. This is a place where Blantyre City Council (BCC) designated as its waste dump site.

 

Surprisingly, the dumpsite is always crammed with people who seem unperturbed with the smell popping out of the rot and waste. They are here every day scavenging for anything that they can lay their hands on.

 

Most of them are regulars and they include the likes of Joseph Bitilinyu and Stephen Mwanjira, two young men seemingly in their early 30’s and mid 20’ respectively.

 

To the majority of people, this place is really a dumpsite but for Bitilinyu and Mwanjira, this is their gold-mine.

 

“This is a dumpsite yes, we agree, but all the people you see here rely on this place for their daily survival,” Bitilinyu says emphatically, while looking with keen interest at every vehicle coming from the direction of Limbe in case it is bringing him another consignment of ‘gold.’

 

Bitilinyu confirms that some of the waste in form of food collected from the dumpsite is used at his home and part of it sold to other business people around Blantyre townships like Machinjiri, Ndirande and Bangwe, among other potential locations.

 

He adds: “We mainly scramble for chickens and other expired edible goods which others call rotten when in fact it’s still fresh and don’t produce any bad smell. But it is not easy to get it because we always scramble, it is survival of the fittest here.”

 

When the collection gets into their homes, it undergoes some form of ‘packaging.’

 

“We clean it; put it in a plastic bag before dispatching to the market. We easily sell our commodities because of the cheap price. The current economic hardship forces many people to go for cheap food stuffs like these,” Bitilinyu says.

 

Mwanjira also concurs with Bitilinyu that most of the products from the dumpsite find their way back into different townships around Blantyre.

 

“Most of our customers are those people who sell fresh chicken pieces and already prepared chicken portions in entertainment places like bars,” Mwanjira says.

 

Other customers include ordinary people who buy the products for their own consumption.

 

On the day of the interview, Mwanjira expresses disappointment to this reporter for just collecting five chickens.

 

“This is not enough for me, it will sell out within a short time because demand is high,” he says.

 

As he walks through the slums of Kachere Township, carrying the chickens in a plastic bag, accompanied by this Mana reporter, Mwanjira meets his first customer.

 

She is 27-year-old Maureen Nyada, a mother of three living in Makhetha area.

 

Lifting up the chicken in appreciation, Nyada says: “This one looks better than the rest.”

 

Nyada and her husband cannot afford to buy decent meat from authorized dealers. For her, the chicken sold by the likes of Mwanjira is the only alternative of having animal protein in their diet.

 

“My family has been buying chickens from these people but we don’t get sick. It’s just a misconception that expired meat is harmful and cannot be eaten,” she challenges while thanking the people who bring these cheap products to their proximity.

 

Bitilinyu and Mwanjira are not the only people benefiting from the Mzedi dump site. A recent report by Environmental Concerned Youth Association (ECOYA) released towards the end of last year indicates that there are over 2000 people scavenging at the site.

 

ECOYA’s projects officer Ned Mlonya says this soaring figure of patronage at the dumpsite means that many lives are at risk.

 

“If you have such number of people scavenging at the dumpsite, imagine the number of people to be reached by supply from these scavengers,” Mlonya says.

 

ECOYA has been calling for the immediate closure of Mzedi dumpsite for being too close to residential areas, thereby posing health risks to many people. Early last year, the organization delivered a petition to Blantyre City Council on the same.

 

From June to August last year, ECOYA together with Society for Friends of Environment and Technology (SOFET) conducted an assessment of water quality at Moto, a village near the dumpsite.

 

The assessment exposed silent effects of poor waste management on shallow water sources and the water specifications were found unsuitable for human consumption or domestic use.

 

BCC has come under heavy criticism for failing to properly manage the collection and disposal of garbage.

 

But the council says it already making initiatives in addressing the general problem of waste management in Blantyre City.

 

Speaking at a meeting the council convened recently at the city chambers, Director of Sanitation and Health Services Dr. Emmanuel Kanjunjunju said the council is looking forward to partnering with other players in addressing the challenges related to waste management.

 

 “The council is engaged in talks with some private firms in a bid to privatize solid waste management in the city under the public-private-partnership arrangement,” says Kanjunjunju.

 

He adds that the council is seeking funds from donor partners towards cleaning up the city’s major rivers, and streams, which are currently heavily polluted with sewage, solid waste and chemicals from factories.

 

But as the council contemplates taking action on waste management challenges, people like Bitilinyu, Mwanjira and Nyada remain unmoved with the health risks posed by Mzedi dumpsite.

 

“As long as I have something to sell and eat for my daily survival, I have no problem with the dumpsite,” Bitilinyu says.

Features

2018/2019 BUDGET STATEMENT: Full Text

2018/2019 BUDGET STATEMENT: Full Text

Minister of Finance Goodal Gondwe presents the 2018-19 National Budget on Friday - Pic by Govati Nyirenda Mr. Speaker, Sir, I beg to move that the estimates on the Recurrent and Development Accounts for the 2018-19 Budget be referred to the Committee of the Whole House, to be considered vote by v...