Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
ILLEGAL brick moulders have caused massive land degradation in Hwange Local Board (HLB) (fomerly Hwange Town) while exposing themselves to waterborne diseases by using sewage water for their operations.
The practice has been ongoing for about 15 years and now threatens some residential stands and commercial properties in the growing town.
The illegal moulding of bricks started when the Empumalanga Sewer Plant collapsed and the failure to rehabilitate the plant resulted in raw effluent flowing down the stream, enabling the illegal industry.
The land that has been damaged by the illegal brick moulders stretches for almost three kilometres down the sewage stream, west of Mpumalanga suburb.
To the brick moulders, the financial benefits of using sewage water outweighs health risks.
A Chronicle news crew recently visited HLB and observed bare footed illegal brick moulders mixing sand with sewage water.
Women with minor children, the youth, retired civil servants and ex-Diasporans are all found at the illegal brick moulding site.
While it has become common to link illegal activity and violence, the area is peaceful and the illegal brick moulders are largely calm, respectful and somehow willing to tell their stories.
A couple reveals that it started brick moulding last year following the outbreak of Covid-19.
Mrs Memory Dube, who lives in the HLB, DRC section said she embarked on brick moulding after reaching a decision with her husband.
On site, they were with their minor child who could be just two years old.
Mrs Dube said they spend 12 hours on site from 6AM to 6PM as they cook in the bush among other things.
“Before Covid-19, I would travel to Tanzania to buy synthetic hair for resale. But Covid-19 grounded us. So, my husband suggested that we come down here and be involved in moulding of bricks. He used to come alone and was a middle-man where he would order bricks and sell them to clients in Victoria Falls. Initially, I was hesitant. The thought of a woman being involved in brick moulding was deterrent but the financial returns are very good, even better than selling synthetic hair. Because I know that the moment my bricks are ready, truckers would line up to buy them all but previously it would take me three months to finish the stock I would have bought for resale,” said Mrs Dube.
She said it would be difficult for her to move away from the lucrative brick moulding business.
The illegal brick moulders have allocated each other portions of land to work from and boundaries are respected.
Some land barons, not involved in brick moulding, reportedly rent out their illegally occupied land to moulders.
When the news crew approached Mr Chisabe Ndlovu, a father of nine from Lukosi, he started by apologising.
He calls his illegal brick moulding venture “a form of acceptable theft.”
Mr Ndlovu has expereinced the wrath of the local authority on illegal moulders after his bricks were destroyed.
He however, wishes that the local authority would allow them to continue moulding bricks on town land, itself an environmental illegality.
Brick moulding activities are regulated under Statutory Instrument 7 of 2009 which states that a licence is required for commercial extraction of clay or sand deposits.
“Council officials have been coming here throughout the week, telling us to leave this place and threatening to take action. I request that council should be lenient with us and allow us to continue moulding bricks from here even if it means paying for it. Because it is not sustainable to be brick moulding while also on the run at the same time. This is where we make our money, our bricks are sold as far as Victoria Falls, Harare, Inyathi, Beitbridge and Mt Darwin and I sell each brick for US$0,40. I mould 10 000 bricks in about 12 days and get US$400,” he said.
“From that US$400 I’m able to send my children to school, pay for my insurance policy. I’m 54 years old, there isn’t much work I can do except this type of stealing. I apologise, I know that what I’m doing is not right.”
Mr Ndlovu said he makes an average of 800 bricks in a day, meaning he gets his 10 000 target in just over 12 days.
He aknowledges that sewage water could compromise his health while land degradation is impacting negativley on vegetation, but to him, his belly comes first.
The news crew observed some partially uprooted trees as a result of the the illegal brick moulders’ operations.
Hwange Local Board public relations officer Mr Dumisani Nsingo said the illegal brick moulding and soil poaching is widespread in the bushy areas of Empumalanga and Don Bosco.
“The open pits left behind by the poachers are becoming a danger to both human beings and animals with their existence being more hazardous during the rainy season. This illicit activity has been going on for about 15 years and as council we have made various efforts to curb it but to no avail. The extraction of clay soil for brick moulding in an urban area is not permissible under the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act,” said Mr Nsingo.
“However, our efforts to implement the legislation at our disposal have over the years been met with resistance. Our security details have always been threatened with violence by poachers who will be out-numbering them. Last year we rehabilitated part of the area that had been affected by clay poachers after we received an order from Environment Management Agency (EMA).”
He said following the issuance of stop orders by EMA, illegal brick moulders were informed to regularise their operations with the nearby Hwange Rural District Council but most of them prefer to operate illegally.
Mr Nsingo said last year, the council sought assistance from the police and other security agents to remove the illegal sand poachers and brick moulders and they vanished but they have since resurfaced.
He said the local authority remains committed to curbing clay soil poaching activities and rehabilitating the affected areas.
“However, it has to be noted that the rehabilitation exercise requires resources. Thus, as council we won’t be able to carry out the exercise without the assistance of other stakeholders since we are currently financially constrained. We are, however, optimistic that the rehabilitation of the Empumalanga Sewer Plant might curtail the clay soil poaching activities since the poachers are relying on sewage water, which finds its way to the nearby Kalope stream for brick moulding,” said Mr Nsingo.
“The rehabilitation of Empumalanga Sewer Plant is part of the scope of works to be undertaken by the Ministry of Housing and Social Amenities, which will start servicing over 2000 residential stands at Empumalanga West soon.”
EMA said illegal brick moulding in the HLB area has negative impacts ranging from environmental, economic, social and health.
Environmental Education and Publicity Officer Mrs Mildred Matunga said the open pits being dug lead to gullies, deforestation and soil erosion.
She said there is also land pollution as they are involved in open defecation.
She added that the moulders contribute to water pollution as coal dust finds its way into the nearby river.
Mrs Matunga said the use of coal to treat the bricks is contributing to air pollution.
“There is a health hazard as moulders use untreated sewage water to mould their bricks. Brick moulding activities start just at the mouth of the sewage discharge point before any river self-purification occurs. This exposes them to high risk from pathogenic organisms,” said Mrs Matunga.
“There are no ablution facilities for the illegal brick moulders. When nature calls, the only resort is open defecation thereby posing a risk of communicable diseases like diarrhoea.”
She said the illegal brick moulding activities are costing the local authority as some of the activities are conducted in residential areas, devaluing people’s properties.
Mrs Matunga said there is also a risk of cases of child labour rising within the areas and illegal settlements.
The Chronicle observed that some of the illegal brick moulders were living in shacks in the area.
Mrs Matunga said EMA has tried to educate the brick moulders and fined others but the problem has remained persistent.
“A multi-stakeholder approach is the ultimate solution as it is holistic in nature. Some of the stakeholders to be considered include interested and affected parties, relevant Government departments and regulatory bodies. These should map the way forward as the issues of illegal brick moulding are cross cutting, affecting the economic, environment and social aspects of the Hwange community, said Mrs Matunga. — @nqotshili