How Malawi city residents could be eating the rot from a filthy dumpsite

Travelling on Blantyre- Zomba road, one is haunted by a pungent smell from piling waste at Mzedi Dumpsite.

Young men waiting for a vehicle to drop garbage at Mzedi

The scavengers scramble for the leftovers

But the filthy place, where Blantyre City Council (BCC) dumps truckloads of waste every day, is always crammed with people who seem unperturbed by the stench.

The scavengers scramble for the leftovers.

Joseph Bitilinyu, aged around 25, is a regular. For him, Mzedi is a gold-mine.

“This is a dumpsite, but we survive on the leftovers,” he says.

Bitilinyu looks impatiently at every truck bringing waste from the commercial city. Crowds run after it.

According to the man, some stale and expired foodstuffs from the dumpsite find their way back to the city.

“We use some at home and secretly sell the rest to the businesspeople in Machinjiri, Ndirande, Bangwe and other townships,” he says.

These ‘hot deals’ include chickens, beef and edible goods.

“You may think it is rotten when it’s actually still fresh. They don’t stink,” says Bilitinyu.

Obtaining the meaty treasure from the pile is survival of the fittest.

Once at home, the rejects are repackaged.

“We clean it and wrap it in plastic bags before it goes to the market. With the current economic hardships, many people prefer cheap goods like this,” explains Bitilinyu.

His colleague, Stephen Mwanjira, elaborates how city residents are at risk of eating unhealthy food plucked from the dumps.

“Our customers mostly include people who sell fresh chicken pieces in markets and either roasted or fried chickens in pubs,” he says.

This clandestine business is thriving on financial hardships which have led to a boom in sales of chicken parts.

During the visit, Mwanjira sounded disappointed to have collected “just five chickens”.

“This isn’t enough,” he said. “It will be sold out in no time. The demand is high,” he says.

Walking back home, the man is seen vending his first chicken in Kachere slum near the dumpsite.

The customer is Maureen Nyada, 27. The mother-of-three lives in Makhetha nearby.

Weighing up the birds one after another, she settles for one: “This one looks better than the rest.”

Nyada’s family cannot afford a chicken from the shelf. For them, the gatherers from Mzedi offer affordable access to meat.

“We have been buying from these people for years, but we don’t get sick,” she says, parrying concerns that the meat may be rotten and hazardous to health.

A study by Environmental Concerned Youth Association (Ecoya) indicates that there were over 2000 scavengers at Mzedi last year.

The bulging population at the dumpsite put city residents at risk, says Ecoya projects officer Ned Mlonya,

“Imagine the number of people reached by supply from these scavengers,” he says.

Ecoya is petitioning hard for immediate closure of the spilling dumpsite.

The campaigners say the unsanitary spot is too close to residential areas and endangers lives of the villagers.

Last year, they delivered a petition to the city council—but Mzedi remains open.

From June to August, activists at Ecoya joined hands with Society for Friends of Environment and Technology (Sofet) to assess water quality at Moto Village near the dumpsite.

The analyses showed the water is “unsuitable for human consumption or domestic use.”

The findings exposed silent effects of poor waste management on shallow water source use.

BCC stands accused of failing to manage waste responsibly.

But its director of sanitation and health services Emmanuel Kanjunjunju says the council is taking steps to address problems with waste management in the city.

Speaking during a meeting BCC convened recently, he said the council will partner with private firms to close gaps in waste management.

“The council is in talks with some private firms to privatise solid waste management under this public-private partnership,” he said.

BCC is seeking funds from development partners towards cleaning up the city’s major rivers and streams which are polluted with sewage, garbage and chemicals from factories.

However, the response has been slow.

As the wait for transformative action lengthens, people like Bitilinyu, Mwanjira and Nyada remain at risk of contracting diseases associated with the unhygienic conditions at Mzedi dumpsite.

Says Bilitinyu: “As long as I have something to sell and eat, I have no problem with the dumpsite

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