Zimbabwe - Domestic Workers Learn to Build (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
April, 1997
(Source: ICA News, Issue No.1/1997, pp. 4-5)

Zimbabwe - Domestic Workers Learn to Build
by Astrid Kirchner, DESWOS	

The traditional ways of earning a bit of money in Africa, Asia and Latin America 
are all too well known. Anyone who has ever visited Brasilia, Delhi or Nairobi 
has seen them, the street vendors, shoe shiners and clerks in the little sidewalk 
offices who for a charge take down letters for people who have never learned 
to read or write. To this group also belong the domestic workers, the live-in 
household help for the better-off who do the cooking, cleaning, gardening and 
more for their wealthy bosses.
As in Germany, the wages earned by domestic workers do not exceed the limit 
at which their employers would be required to make social security contributions. 
But the domestic workers in the south suffer a much worse lot than those here 
at home. They are among the lowest paid of all workers. Most can neither read 
nor write and have never learned a trade. They have no social insurance and the 
wages they earn are not enough to support a family.
Domestic workers have only a shadow of a family life. Their shacks in the slums 
are so far away from their work that they live in small rooms in their employers' 
homes. They have only Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. This is when they 
finally find time for their families, for church and, so that they can somehow 
make ends meet, for side jobs.
DESWOS has been working to help the members of the Tashinga co-operative 
building society. The word "Tashinga" means something like "to take control of 
your own life" and to improve your situation. For eight years now, all 224 
families have been saving a small sum each month so that they, with help 
from the government, could purchase a suitable lot close to the city where they 
can build. Now they have finally found a site. With financial assistance from 
the European Union and DESWOS, they plan to put up 100 solidly-built houses 
so that the domestic workers and their families can come together under one roof 
during the week as well. The proximity to the city and to their employers means 
the workers can leave early and walk or take the bus to get to their jobs on time. 
At the same time the DESWOS project wants to, so to speak, kill two birds with 
one stone, and offer these people new job prospects along with new lodgings. 
The co-operative society has made an arrangement with a local construction 
company whereby the company can take over management of the construction 
project if it agrees to take on more trainees. Domestic workers would be more 
than happy to trade in their current jobs for more meaningful and practical 
employment. In their view, household work is very unsatisfying and benefits 
only the rich. They would prefer to learn a productive trade, so that in the 
evenings they could look back with pride at what they accomplished that day 
and, most importantly, so that their hard work would earn them a higher wage.
Both men and women are taken on as trainees in construction. They can learn 
to become masons, carpenters or simple labourers. Similar projects have 
shown that unskilled workers are ideal for producing building blocks and 
roofing tiles by hand. The tools and machines required are already available 
and the building materials are supplied. Bricks are pressed using hand-operated 
machines. This is hard, physical labour but is quite easy to learn. As such 
work is too strenuous for women, they may be employed making roofing 
tiles, where a fine touch and sure instinct are required to properly work and 
shape the moist mixture of clay, cement and sisal hemp used in producing 
the tiles. Other DESWOS projects have demonstrated that women are 
particularly suited to such work. This project also provides compensation for 
wages which participants would have earned as domestic workers during 
the period of training.
If all goes according to plan, trainees will be able to earn their livings producing 
building materials or working as masons once the project has ended. They 
will be able to help in the construction of additional houses for the 
co-operative society. The various mixtures of sand, cement, clay and water 
allows for the production of building materials for rich and poor alike. 
So it will be possible to satisfy the growing demand for homes. As the 
Tashinga project reaches fruition, the chances for domestic workers in 
Zimbabwe to improve their lives grow by the day.