Stone crushing: Women join in

HARARE - With her bare hands, Rita Makotore has changed the landscape of Chitungwiza crushing monstrous boulders into heaps of quarry, in her endless battle to coax out a living.

Once a preserve of men stone crushing is now universal exempting none, as the pangs of hunger care less for gender, age or race.

In this dormitory town of Chitungwiza which exports labour to Harare, the sound of hammers knocking patiently on solid rock is now part of the hum.

Rita is one among scores of women who, having been crippled by poverty, have ferociously descended on rock outcrops which adorn the undulating lands of Chitungwiza.

Be it under the broiling sun or in freezing temperatures people like Rita do labour in an effort to make ends meet, needless to say ends rarely ever meet.

“I used to think that only man can crush stones but hard times drove me into joining my husband, we operate as a family and sell for profit but there is barely enough for us to live on and there are now so many people who are in the stone crushing business,” she said.

Taking advantage of the boom in construction, in the sprawling town, many people have taken to stone crushing with the net effect of bringing down the prices of quarry.

A wheelbarrow of quarry costs anything between $1,50 and $2 and according to Rita buyers are rare to the extent that the few who come, now determine the prices.

With a baby strapped on her back, Rita is a common feature along Seke road and age has crept on her, rather prematurely.

At 27 she looks twice her age, having been bowled over by financial hardships.

“I was married when I had just completed my ordinary Level education in 2000, then my husband was employed in the industries before he was laid off in 2002, since then we have never had anything secure to live upon.”

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) says unemployment in Zimbabwe which stands at 80 percent has forced many women into crushing stone, vending and other informal trades.

In a country where only 20 percent of the total population is employed the informal trade has saved lives of many including babies like Tanaka, Rita’s one year-old-child.

“We don’t make much but everything, from clothing to feeding of our baby, comes from stone crushing. I have lost myself respect, this job of stone crushing is very taxing and no job for a woman. My wife however insists that she can help with the work and nowadays she is almost always sick,” said David, Rita’s wiry husband who seems to have the world’s burdens on his lean shoulders.

According to Zimbabwe Statistical Office (Zimstats) the National Food Poverty Line for March as measured stood at $34,84 per person.

The World Bank defines poverty in absolute terms and extreme poverty as living on less than $1, 25 per day, and moderate poverty as less than $2 a day.

In March, the country’s poverty datum line for an average of five persons per household stood at $541, a growth of $1,14 percent from the February figure of $535 and shows an increase of 1,2 percent from $534 in the comparable year ago period.

The poverty datum line is the threshold below which families or individuals are considered to be lacking the resources to meet the basic needs for healthy living; in other words, having insufficient income to provide the food, shelter and clothing needed to preserve health.

Against such, granite boulders — a major feature of the rolling Zimbabwean landscape — are not good enough to provide solutions to the growing needs of the unemployed.

On a good day these women make a mere $4 which can translate to a monthly earning of $120, a pittance against the poverty datum line of around $500.

A full wheelbarrow sale for $2 but customers are not always available.

One big challenge though, that the stone demolishers face is that they have to play cat and mouse with the Environmental Management Authority.

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