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  • on 02.03.2014
  • at 12:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Collecting copper in the Klipspruit river: Different Zama Zamas, different risks 0

The high unemployment rate has inspired South Africans to find innovative ways of making ends meet. There are children to be fed, clothed, housed and educated, which is what drives the Zama Zamas, some of them women, who I have come across panning the Klipspruit River for odd pieces of copper to sell to local scrap yards.

Work here begins as early as 6am and usually a few of the diggers would have found enough to provide at least a meal at the end of the day.

The process of collecting, cleaning and selling the copper is certainly not easy. It is long and laborious, hard work that takes many of the young women with children away from their homes for far too long.

Which is why 27-year-old Nyiko Maluleka brings her three-year-old daughter down to the dirty river with her. Maluleka, originally from Giyani in Limpopo, said she leaves home in Soweto every morning at 7am.

“I only return about 2:00 pm, so I spend about seven hours here and that is why I bring my kid along so she does not starve all alone at home,” she said.

A quick look around, however, suggested that there was very little food in sight. All I could spot was two-litre bottle of water and little else, which suggested that the only time the child could have eaten was before they had left home that morning.

The riverbed where Maluleka and the other Zama Zamas scour for copper is covered in a thick, black, oily substance. Small pieces of copper gleam from this blackness. Maluleka’s hands are covered in oil as she digs out these small pieces from the river using a 2o litre bucket. She scoops the sludge from the water and pours it out onto the riverbank. Afterwards she kneads, squeezes and prods it while rinsing the mixture with more water, at which point the pieces of sharp copper are revealed. Maluleka then gathers up the shards and scatters them to dry in the sun. Collectors prefer hot, sunny weather as rain prevents them from drying out their copper.

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