For Saidi, a single father of one, is one of many Epworth residents eking out a living from hammering down quarry stones at the Epworth quarry dam. For countless breadwinners in Zimbabwe, informal work is the only option in an economy beset by inflation, stagnant wages and food shortages.
By Tafara Mugwara
HARARE, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- Sitting on a rock and seemingly not putting any effort, Saidi from Epworth, a settlement on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, pounds on a chunk of granite stone with a hammer so that he can break the stone into small pieces.
Saidi, a single father of one is one of many Epworth residents eking out a living from hammering down quarry stones at the Epworth quarry dam.
Dubbed the "pool of death" due to many lives that have perished in it due to drowning or suicide - the mysterious dam has turned from a pool of death to a pool of life.
The dam was formed as a result of quarry mining during the construction of Harare's south-eastern suburbs.
Besides providing a lifeline for stone crushers like Saidi, the dam has also become an oasis in the midst of a desert as residents in its vicinity rely on it to get water for household consumption.
During the dry season, which runs from May to November, a large portion of the dam dries up, allowing enthusiastic stone crushers like Saidi to seize the opportunity to make a living.
A construction boom in Epworth over the years has provided a ready market for quarry stones. The stones are sold to construction sites where they are used for making concrete and other construction-related uses.
Saidi crashes the stone with a hammer at the Epworth quarry dam, Harare, Zimbabwe, July 26, 2020. (Xinhua/Tafara Mugwara)
Before joining the stone crushing trade, Saidi was a sculptor, but when Zimbabwe's relationships with the West started to deteriorate and high spending Western tourists shunned the country, his business went south.
As an ex-convict, being self-employed was the only available option considering that people with criminal records find it difficult to get hired.
"I started this job on 31 March just after finishing my 3-year jail sentence," he told Xinhua.
On what motivated him to engage on such a strenuous job, Saidi said, "I didn't want to continue committing crimes, or taking other people's belongings. So I decided to borrow some tools and started to crush stones so that I could provide a livelihood to my family."
Braving the Southern Hemisphere's chilly mornings, Saidi's day begins at 6 am and ends at 5:30 pm. He said crushing stones is his sole source of income which has enabled him to pay rent, educate and feed his daughter.
Although the job is physically demanding, Saidi is earning a living, which motivates him to soldier on.
"I am quite satisfied by what I am doing because I am actually eking out a living.
"That's why I wake up early every morning so that I can collect my stones and start working on them," he said.
"I can crash one and half wheelbarrows per day, and about 60 wheelbarrows (about 5 cubic meters) per month," he said.
Photo taken on July 26, 2020 shows "The pool of death" in Epworth, Harare, Zimbabwe. (Xinhua/Tafara Mugwara)
Sixty wheelbarrow loads of three-quarter quarry stones cost between 90 and 120 U.S. dollars, and takes about a month to crush.
Although Saidi seems to be dedicated to his work, he has not given up on getting a formal job.
He said stone quarrying is not an easy job because the methods he uses to excavate rocks from the ground and crush them into pieces are tiresome and risky.
"If I can get another better job I will accept it because it might be better than what I'm doing right now, I don't plan to do this job forever," he said.
For Saidi and countless other breadwinners in Zimbabwe, informal work is the only option in an economy beset by inflation, stagnant wages and food shortages.
According to a 2018 International Monetary Fund report, Zimbabwe's informal economy is the largest in Africa, and second only to Bolivia in the world. The informal sector accounts for more than 60 percent of all of Zimbabwe's economic activity.
Two decades of economic turmoil has seen the southern African country's formal economy shrinking significantly.
Zimbabwe's economic challenges have also been exacerbated by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many households food insecure.