metal warthog sculpture
Warthog sculpture made from recycled metal scraps by artist Obey Hanyani.

Photo courtesy of Gibson Nyikadzino.

A smooth tarred path veers off from a busy major road into a declining industrial area near Sunningdale, a high-density suburb south-west of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. This neighborhood’s fortunes have been spiraling downward for nearly two decades. But now, it’s being reclaimed by unemployed young people eager to resuscitate the heartbeat of Zimbabwe’s once-thriving industrial sector.

From a distance, the sharp sound of metal clanging against itself can be heard. A ‘sniff’ of the sounds lead to a makeshift workshop where a group of men and women in their twenties and early thirties is keenly focusing on their craft. They are clad in dirtied old clothes without protective clothing befitting their work.

This crew survives from recycling scrap metal waste into pieces of art through arc welding. Some even ditched potential professional jobs because Zimbabwe’s faltering economy is simply no longer sustainable.

“At college, I did motor mechanics but never had an opportunity to practice my trade because companies closed down. The local job market is a cul-de-sac. For three years now I am a devout metal artist,” explains Taurai Manhare, 30.

Manhare points out that he wasted years studying motor mechanics which he never had time to practice.

“Had I know that it could end this way, I would have pursued art for a living from the onset. It has changed my fortunes,” he adds.

Man stands with bird sculptures
Artist Taurai Manhare displays some of the pieces he’s made from recycled metals. 

Photo courtesy of Gibson Nyikadzino.

The World Bank 2019 report says Zimbabwe’s poor economic performance pushed 5.5 million people into extreme poverty, which Manhare feels he is in. It also projects that poverty is set to remain stagnant in 2020 because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A March 2020 survey by the country’s national statistics office revealed that 76 percent of the country’s working population is informally employed.

To Manhare, the country’s poverty and stagnant growth are rays of hope in his industry. He’s now working to formalize his venture, register a company, and be able to remit taxes to the government. He and other colleagues have managed to find a new export market for their products. Currently, he no longer makes art pieces for fellow Zimbabweans because “they do not value art and do not want to pay good money.”

“I am an artist and I have to be rewarded for my innovation. This is a difficult job and as it stands, I can no longer work to get less. We buy scrap from accident damaged vehicles and used drums. As an artist, if a client sends me a picture of a bird, an elephant, or warthog, I have to come up with that piece no matter how difficult it is.

“Every artwork that a client wants, I use my skill to come up with a template, make shapes, and create the artwork to the satisfaction of the client. This is a value addition. In this toil, the good thing is we now have a new market that is impressing foreigners.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, we received tourists from European countries and those appreciate our artwork and they also pay handsomely. As I speak, we have customers in Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, and Australia we are producing art for.

“Just last month we exported a forty-foot container to the United Kingdom. Under such difficult circumstances, we are doing better and earning foreign currency for both ourselves and the country. We are recycling waste material for a living,” added Manhare.

Man welding
Taurai Manhare working on a metal artwork.

Photo courtesy of Gibson Nyikadzino.

The father of two however pointed out the metal art industry is now infested by parasitic middlemen who are making more money but do not have the craft skills. The middlemen get contacts from overseas clients and give jobs to the artists. Among these is one Manhare works for, forty-year-old Sober Machawira.

The sector right now is really up for grabs, according to Machawira.“There is a lot of chaos in the arts industry. The government gives loans to business start-ups that are registered. Right now we are unregistered, want to pay taxes yet living from hand to mouth exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“If things stabilize we will formalize the business. We are also trying to establish our union so that we push our concerns as a united front,” said Machawira.

Despite a continued coronavirus lockdown, the artists now keep ears on the ground for news from Zim-Trade, a government agency that links informal sector traders with international clients. Adds Machawira: “There are international customers now coming through Zim-Trade. That is a positive development considering the coronavirus induced lockdown that has also affected how we get our income.”

Ms. Karen Mukwedeya, a communications officer at Zim-Trade said based on their 2018 projections, so far 30 to 40 percent of exports from Zimbabwe have been through the informal sector.

Ms. Mukwedeya acknowledged Zimbabwe has “policy rigidity.” “We’re working with the government to improve the ease of doing export business. For those in the informal sector, we have managed to lobby for the removal of export permits that were acting as cost and time-related impediments,” she said.

While the coronavirus pandemic has dwindled business fortunes for other young Zimbabweans, Manhare’s workmate, 23-year-old Brighton Msimanga claims this is an opportunity to market his work.

The self-taught electrician is to enrolling in digital marketing classes to gain new skills once coronavirus restrictions are eased and colleges re-open.

“Skills harnessed should help us improve ourselves and business ventures. I need to tap into digital platforms to market my work.

“My perspectives on marketing strategies have since transformed due to this pandemic, I have to go to school and get a certificate in digital marketing. I need to do things differently,” said Msimanga.

man working as a metal artist
Brighton Msimanga working on a piece of metal art.

Photo courtesy of Gibson Nyikadzino.

Both Manhare and Msimanga long for a day their art will be exhibited at international arts festivals.

“I wish one day to be invited overseas to exhibit my art. Most young Zimbabweans have that dream to snatch life-changing opportunities abroad,” added Manhare, and Msimanga confirmed with a nod.

Gibson Nyikadzino

Gibson Nyikadzino


Gibson Nyikadzino is a Zimbabwe-based media analyst, consultant, journalist, and blogger who covers human interest, development, and environmental stories. He can be contacted on gnyikadzino@gmail.com.

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