Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
When you think of industries that offer opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, the car breaking industry is probably not the first one that comes to mind.
However, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, it is a bustling sector that provides jobs and income for approximately 1 000 families.
Located in the Kelvin North industrial area, the car-breaking industry is a hub of activity, filled with the shells of vehicles of all types that have been disposed of by their owners following road accidents.
Young men sit atop and inside the shells, eager to showcase the car parts they have for sale. The touts know the ins and outs of the industry and receive a 10 percent commission for securing clients.
Behind the scenes are the true car breakers — the men and women who work tirelessly to break down the vehicles and sort through the parts for sale. The industry is regulated by a chairperson, Conrad Dube, who started operating in the area in 1996 and has since purchased three houses through the proceeds from breaking cars and selling car parts.
Dube used to operate a commuter business before Peugeot 404 operators were phased out. Thereafter he became a full-time car breaker and the industry has enabled him to buy three houses.
“In 1999 I managed to buy my first house in Cowdray Park and in 2012 I also bought two more houses in Emthunzini through the proceeds from the car breaking industry. We are not just car breaking, we buy and sell cars and we visit a lot of auctions,” said Dube, who specialises in breaking pick-up trucks.
The car breaking industry in Bulawayo is more than just a trade; it is a lifeline for many young people in the area who are struggling to find employment. With 172 registered car breakers and approximately 70 who are not registered, there are more than 200 people directly involved in the industry, in addition to those who sell food and other goods in the area.
Dube believes that the industry’s ability to provide employment has contributed to a reduction in crime in the nearby Iminyela suburb.
“In the past, Iminyela was associated with a lot of crimes. The youth didn’t have jobs, but this industry has absorbed a lot of people from Iminyela and I believe helped in addressing some of the challenges,” he said.
The car breakers in Bulawayo are licensed and pay the municipality US$23 on a monthly basis, contributing to the local economy.
Another car breaker, Mkhokheli Ndebele said he has 21 years experience in the business. He once moved to South Africa but the conditions did not suit him and he returned home to be part of the car breaking industry.
“My brother used to work here in the early 2000s so he is the one who introduced me to car breaking. I mainly break ex-Japanese Toyota vehicles. I think I have about 21 years working experience here. I worked here before I left for South Africa in the early 2000s but I came back in 2010 and I’ve been working here ever since,” he said.
He has been able to support his family through the money he gets from car breaking and selling of car parts.
“Before buying we first check the car condition and if it is in a good condition, we buy it at US$1 000 and then I make my profits after selling the parts.
Those who are able to budget well have been able to buy houses. This industry supports a lot of people. I can safely say we have people numbering about 1 000 working here. These include touts who look for customers for us and they get paid using commission.
There are also women who sell food stuff to us among other things,” he said.
A tout, Manwell Tshabalala from Iminyela suburb said he has been operating in the area for seven years and is able to provide for his family.
“So what we do is we get spares from car breakers to sell and I get 10 percent from every sale. I sometimes pretend to be the owner of the spares before selling them.
I have been doing this for seven years. The challenge is to get a licence to be a car breaker as there is no adequate space. I’m able to provide for my children and even pay their school fees,” said Tshabalala.
The news crew observed several women who were selling their wares to them. One of the women, Brilliant Moyo, runs a makeshift kiosk and she cooks and sells chips to the car breakers while others provide meals such as isitshwala.
She has been able to buy a car from the revenue she generates through providing meals to them.
“I make hot chips and provide tea to them so that they don’t travel long distances to seek food. We benefit a lot from their trade. So this enables us to support our families as well and we have even managed to buy cars from the proceeds we get from here,” said Ms Moyo.
Ms Petronella Majani who sells mahewu, biscuits and cigarettes, said she makes a quick buck selling food to car breakers.
“I’m in my third year operating from here and I don’t have problems as I have become closer to the people who work here.
They assist a lot of people because cars are having mechanical faults day and night so a lot of people get their parts here at a cheaper price. It’s unlike in the shops,” said Ms Majani.
So, next time you see a group of young men sitting on a car shell by the side of the road, remember that they might be part of an industry that is making a difference in the lives of many people in Bulawayo. The car breaking industry may be unheralded, but it is a valuable contributor to the local economy and a source of hope for those looking for work and opportunities.–@nqotshili