From a distance you can hear cars hooting, touts shouting, and the sounds of hammering as nails are pounded into wood. Slowly approaching the entrance you become en-snared in chaotic traffic congestion. Half the road is sealed off by delivery haulage trucks and the remaining half is total confusion as kombis and private vehicles compete for space to move around in a battle now referred to as ‘karate’.
Dropping off, a swarm of touts pounce on their prey, offering to show you their wares, ‘at a bargain price’. Be careful to guard your pockets or this will be the last you will see of your valuables. Cell phones are the hot targets, as some of the crowd are thieves aiming to reap profits from your pockets.
The stench of burning tyres, in addition to paint, varnishes, and sawdust fills the air. This is the first impression of the Glen View Home Industry section before you even get to observe the environment.
Famed for its cheap but well made furniture, that competes with that found in leading retail outlets, the home industries lie on the banks of the Willowvale River, its borderline barely three metres from the water. Waste, ranging from wood shavings, discarded wires, ashes from burnt tires, and even empty beverage containers float around in the water body. Algae clog up the water.
On the other side, barely ten metres away, is the Glen View 8 High Density suburb. For the residents, clean air and serenity is a dream long forgotten since the re-establishment of the small scale furniture makers work site 10 years ago.
Glen View resident Chenai Musiyambiri said, “These people (small scale furniture makers) make our lives hell. They burn tyres and other rubbish, polluting our air and water, and the noise is just unbearable.” She added that the unclean air put residents’ health at risk. “I understand these people are just trying to survive, so it would be better if the relevant authorities find another place to relocate them, away from residential areas – maybe somewhere in the industrial areas,” said another resident Martin Gutsai.
For most traders and furniture makers feeding their families is far more important than both the environmental and health hazards. To them any way of cutting costs is acceptable without further examination. “The economy doesn’t afford us the luxury of sitting around thinking about the environment. Those are worries for rich people. My worries lie with feeding my family,” said trader Tongai Hwari. He added that burning tyres or old mattresses to extract the wire that is used in making springs for sofas and beds is the cheapest way to access raw materials.
Proper garbage disposal is another challenge being faced by the Home Industry section. Though City of Harare (CoH) collects some of the waste it is does not do so often enough to cope with the waste being produced. Hwari said, “Everyone wants their work space as clean as possible, so if proper systems and ways of disposal are available I’m sure all of us working here will conform to regulations. Just don’t expect us to do something that leads us to losing a lot of money.”
Zimbabwe Institute of Urban Planners President, Percy Toririo, said a basic environmental cost-benefit analysis would be a simple way of dealing with the issue. “The home industry is already there and providing a livelihood and goods and services to many Harare residents,” he said. “What we should focus on as sustainable development practitioners is how to minimize pollution, so that the negative impacts do not exceed the benefits.”
Toririo said there are a number of measures that can be taken to manage the environmental impact of the home industries. “Firstly there is need to raise awareness among the many operators in the industry. They must know that they are close to an important tributary of the Manyame that drains into Lake Chivero.” He added, “Anything that they deposit into that river ends up in their source of drinking water.” Small scale furniture makers need practical ways of sustainably doing their business so that they minimize pollution. “This requires a significant investment in time and technical know-how by bodies such as EMA, SEDCO, and other stakeholders,” said Toriro. “The city council must also periodically monitor and take appropriate measures.”
There is still hope to save Willowvale River. Toriro said, “Any river can be reclaimed, but reclaiming a river or any environment requires commitment and resources. We need to collectively apply our minds and energies to it and do it. We need jobs, we want people to survive, but we also need the environment in order to exist.”