Polluted Mukuvisi River sustains families

For many, the Mukuvisi River is a condemned stream: heavily polluted, a haven for robbers, rapists and sex workers.

Matsanga’s workshop
Matsanga’s workshop

But it is also a source of livelihood to many. Stretching from Cleveland Dam in Msasa on the Eastern part of the city, the river cuts through the Msasa Industrial sites and Mukuvisi Woodlands, moving close to the city-centre, before snaking its way via Graniteside and Mbare industrial sites, receiving more industrial and residential waste between Highfields and Waterfalls on its way to Firle Sewer Treatment Plant in Glen View, some 11km upstream of Lake Chivero.

Regai Muchenje, 41, of Highfields is a good example of a family man who has been employed for over a decade by the Mukuvisi River. He is known by the nickname ‘Mastanga’ (Reeds) for his skill in weaving various products made of this environmental resource which grows well on the river banks.

“I started to do this work in 2000 when I quit my job at Contra-Tel, a subsidiary company of Power-Tel, after having gone for six months without pay. I was lured and trained to weave products such as sofas, room-dividers, chairs, washing baskets and the like by a guy named Jerry, who has since died,” Muchenje told The Zimbabwean.

“I can remember vividly how my wife and the community despised me for embarking on this type of job, which requires me to move around suburbs selling my goods,” he said at his workplace just behind Houghton Park at the bridge along Simon Mazorodze Highway.

Mastanga said he did not listen to his critics but persevered with his new job, which now earns him between $300 and $700 per month.

“The beauty of this job is that I am the boss, worker and can control my income and output,” he said. “In fact when I started this work, my son Givemore was two years old. He is now doing form three and my two other children are doing grades 4 and 2. I have managed to pay rent, buy food and other expenses that any urban dweller has to cover,” he added.

Matsanga collects the wire he needs for his products from burnt tyres at Mbare home industry site and uses a sharp kitchen knife to cut reeds as material to make his products. For sofas and room dividers he uses welded frames and murara (strong weeds found in Murewa and Mutoko). A three piece of sofas costs $150 while chairs and baskets cost $7 each. Before Operation Murambatsvina in 2005, his products used to sell like hot cakes in the local market but the purge on informal sector by government dealt a devastating blow to his business.

Muchenje aka Mastanga displaying some of his products
Muchenje aka Mastanga displaying some of his products

“I lost most customers due to Murambatsvina, which swept away some of my faithful buyers. This, coupled with the high cost of living, has caused the local market to dwindle. So I now depend on cross-border traders who export my products to neighbouring countries like South Africa and Botswana,” he said.

Matsanga has trained some individuals interested in his work for free and they now ply their trade in South Africa. “I trained a young man named James in 2006 for three weeks. Since he was single he went to ply his trade down south, where there is a green market. “Some of my customers who buy my goods in bulk to sell in SA have since bought kombis and are even into buying and selling cars. Their success is pushing me to get a passport so that I can take advantage of the lucrative market across the Limpopo,” he said.

According to the Environmental Management Authority and the Forestry Commission, people who export such products made of environmental resources must have an export and fumigation license, which costs between $5 and $25.

“Some of the challenges that we face in this business are residents staying close to the river who dump hot ashes resulting in veld-fires that destroy our raw materials. These reeds I have now I had to search for them down the stream about three kilometres away,” he said.

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