The Sunday Mail
Nyasha Ngadzi of Bulawayo, is still traumatised by the misfortune that changed her life in October 2020.
Their family home in Magwegwe was gutted by fire when the mother accidentally used petrol instead of paraffin to make floor polish.
The fire resulted in Nyasha sustaining serious injuries that she is still nursing to this day. Her eyes were affected and her hands needed major corrective surgery from the burns.
Unfortunately, her younger sister died in the inferno, which seriously injured Nyasha’s mother and two other siblings.
“My mother was in the business of making floor polish, so on the day, she sent my younger sister to purchase paraffin to make her next order. Unfortunately, she was given petrol instead of paraffin,” she said.
“No one noticed this, and so later in the evening, when our mother was busy making the floor polish, the petrol suddenly burst in flames and the entire house caught fire.
“The memories of that day are still fresh; my life changed completely. Before the incident, I was fit and I could go to work. After the fire, I need assistance to do the most basic of things,” she recounted.
Late last year, she underwent her first surgery and doctors recommended she undergo two more operations if she was to become fully fit again.
Some homes in urban settlements have been turned into ticking time bombs as residents are converting their backyards into mini industries that pose danger to life and the environment.
Among the products being manufactured in these contrived industrial spaces are floor polish and detergents.
Other homes have similarly been turned into warehouses and shops where the enterprising owners are storing and peddling hazardous and flammable substances.
Keeping such substances has had disastrous outcomes to unfortunate victims.
This is not an isolated incident.
Early last year, a Masvingo woman lost household property when her house caught fire while she was manufacturing floor polish.
Similarly, 26-year-old Miriam Sengwe’s four-year-old son was severely burnt after falling into a bowl of hot liquid while she was making bars of soap at a home in Kambuzuma, Harare.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail Society reveal that this trend has become pervasive in most high-density suburbs throughout the country.
The twin factors of hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic and clean-up exercises by local authorities targeting illegal structures, some of which are used by small-scale firms, has forced many people to retreat to their own backyards.
In Unit J, Chitungwiza, Sekai Munodawafa has been in the floor polish-making business for close to a decade.
She is known as “Gogo Sunbeam”, a name derived from a popular floor polish brand.
She is aware of the hazards involved, but still continues to conduct her business in her backyard, where she stays with her two children and three grandchildren.
“I try to be careful to make sure my family is not in harm’s way. However, what I am not sure of is whether council allows us to do this at home. I am ready to apply for a licence if they want us to,” she said.
In Warren Park, Harare, the Machingauta family is well-known for running a detergent making and retailing business.
Purporting to be a customer, we spoke to the husband and founder of the unregistered company, Simbarashe Machingauta.
“I have the capacity to make up to 100 litres of dish-washing liquid, tile cleaner, deep cleaner or foam bath per day, so I can supply you with as much as you want. We also deliver, for an extra charge,” he said.
Asked why the business is not considering renting space in the industrial area if they are producing such quantities, Machingauta said he was not prepared to incur additional operating costs through rentals.
But, he knows full well that council by-laws do not allow them to operate from home. Harare City Council acting spokesperson Innocent Ruwende said manufacturing and retailing of goods in residential areas is illegal.
Such operations, he said, are only allowed if one has applied and has been granted a permit for change of use of property.
However, such permits are not given to high-density property owners.
“We only give such permits to those who want to convert properties in areas close to the CBD; under these circumstances, these areas are regarded as an extension of the industrial zone,” he said.
“Following reports of such worrying cases in various locations, we have a team which includes health control officers conducting assessments and the culprits risk closure of their premises.”
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) national spokesperson Amkela Sidanke said communities should assist by exposing the culprits. She said manufacturing of such products involves the use of dangerous chemicals and the gases emitted pose a threat to both public health and the environment.
Chemicals can also not be transported without a licence.
“Such activities involve use of highly combustible chemicals which pose a threat to public. The gases which are emitted during the manufacturing process are a danger to the environment,” Sidanke said.
She, however, noted that floor polish manufacturers are playing a huge role in waste management.
“They are doing a lot in terms of waste management, they pick the material they use from dumpsites and put it to good use, reducing health hazards associated with poor waste management.”
Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said the Government should consider formalising informal businesses and as well as setting up proper operating structures.
He said existing council by-laws were crafted during the colonial era and society has evolved, hence there is need for authorities to have a re-look at them.
“Due to economic challenges, most people have had to acquire skills like detergent-making and home is the only place they can currently operate from freely,” Shumba said.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association co-ordinator Emmanuel Ndlovu said residents are being forced to work from home, risking both life and limp.
He called upon authorities to set up proper structures that make it safe for the producers to conduct their businesses.