Building a life, one brick at a time

2014-09-28 15:00

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Zimbabwean immigrants go where locals fear to tread

Brighton Munadzi is completely in the zone and oblivious to the mucky sweat trickling down his dirt-covered face.

While in a squatting position, he wets his hands, scoops large chunks of clay from a heap to his side and fills a steel mould.

Once the four-brick frame is filled, he presses the clay in, especially in the corners, using his fingers and palm to compress and fill any open space in a brick.

Wetting his hands again in a bucket next to him, he meticulously scrapes the uneven top part and flattens it.

In less than three minutes, Munadzi has just laid R4 in front of him. The final product sells at R1 per block of red baked brick. He then removes the steel frame, leaving four neat bricks as he moves back, preparing to lay four more. He makes between 800 and 1?000 bricks daily.

Originally from Masvingo in Zimbabwe, Munadzi (22) is one of those illegal immigrants who jumped the border in search of greener pastures in South Africa.

While many of his countrymen went further inland, he joined his homeboys in villages along the Luvuvhu River leading to the vast Nandoni Dam outside Thohoyandou in Vhembe district, Limpopo.

Despite the river being infested with crocodiles, working alongside this water source is advantageous to brick makers, not only because they are close to water, but because they get their meal out of the very same water. They bring maize meal to cook on site and get fish from the river for lunch.

Mountains of bricks mark sprawling informal brick-making factory sites along the river. For the teams to meet their targets, they have to work seven days a week, mostly under the scorching sun.

Brick making, which involves moulding clay, drying and baking it, has become a booming business in villages along the Luvuvhu River outside Thohoyandou in Limpopo. Brick makers use soil with high clay content dug up on the river banks, which is mixed with water to produce bricks that are later sold for R1 each. Working in pairs, these men, who are Zimbabwean nationals, produce up to 30?000 bricks per month. The money is then shared between the pair of workers and the landowner. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

Another worker, Danio Muzudze (22), whose feet are covered in grime, says: “This is a filthy job. The only clean thing you get out of it is the money.

“It may seem like nothing for you watching from the sidelines, but this is a real man’s job. Boys don’t last around here.”

A local man in Dididi village, Colbert Baloyi (28), agrees.

“I am unemployed, but this [brick making] is one job I can never try my hand at. Even if I wanted to, I would not last a day.

“None of the locals is doing this work because it is too dirty and one has to put more hours, days and lots of energy into it. These guys from the other side of the border are seemingly happy with it and they work so hard for their money.”

The hard work does not end with digging up the soil and sculpting the bricks.

Once dry, bricks are stacked in pallets with spaces running from one side to the other to create a kiln.

Fire will then be created in the self-made ovens through holes running underneath the stack.

No spaces are left for the heat to escape from the brick mountain coated with clay. The men will spend the whole day monitoring the fire and adding wood to create durable, flame-hardened bricks.

Judging from huge mountains of red bricks piled up along the river, this is a booming business.

But none of the workers own any of the businesses. They are employed by local landowners.

The landowner provides the land and workers bring in their hands. The landowner is then entitled to half of the money from every consignment of bricks sold.

“The most bricks we have sold was 30?000, which we did in one month.

The boss took his R15?000 and my partner and I shared R7?500 each, from which I managed to send R4?000 to my parents in Zimbabwe,” says Webster Chinyenyetere (26).

“It’s not the best of jobs, but it is my livelihood and I appreciate it.”

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