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GLOBAL PRESS JOURNAL
Since 2006, Global Press has built and maintained over 40 independent news bureaus in some of the world’s least-covered places, where citizens lack credible access to accurate information. Global Press Journal, the award winning international news publication is staffed by professional female journalists who are from the coverage community. Their feature and investigative journalism is published in six languages and reaches audiences across 190 countries.
Photo of a group of miners digging for gold.
Economy
Linda Mujuru

Why Are Zimbabwe’s Gold Miners Risking Deadly Mercury Exposure

Mercury exposure can be deadly. So why are gold miners in Zimbabwe using the dangerous chemical — and risking their lives and the health of their communities in the process?

The young men brace for the first shock of cold water as they enter the river, easing their way into another day of illegal gold mining.

David Mauta and Wisdom Nyakurima, both 18, stand knee-deep in the Odzi River near the eastern Zimbabwe mining city of Mutare and shovel gravel onto a woven mat. They hinge their hopes on finding flakes of shiny gold. But it’s another metal whose dangers they don’t recognize that may have a more lasting impact.

Every day, they touch and breathe mercury, a silverly chemical element that carries deadly implications. The toxic liquid metal is key to their gold-mining efforts, as is the government, which purchases their gold even as officials vow to eliminate mercury’s use. The young men are unregistered artisanal miners, freelance workers who don’t have a license to operate. They sift through rocks in the river and dump beads of mercury over the sediment, which clings to gold. Then they light a match, using the flame to separate the mercury from the gold, a process that shoots toxic vapors into the air.

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In Mexico, Influencers Make Castoff Clothing Cool
Society
Aline Suárez del Real Islas and Mar García

In Mexico, Influencers Make Castoff Clothing Cool

Young consumers around the world increasingly seek out secondhand and alternative clothing markets — making Mexico City’s flea markets, or tianguis, suddenly and surprisingly popular.

MEXICO CITY — The shouts of vendors mingle at the hodgepodge of stalls selling food, fruit and household items at the tianguis Las Torres, a flea market in eastern Mexico City. Beneath the tents, heaps of clothing are mounded on containers, planks and tubes. People examine garment after garment, holding them up to judge their size and draping their choices over their forearms and shoulders. The vendors watch from above, yelling prices and watching for occasional theft.

Bale clothing, or secondhand clothes, often called “ropa americana” (American clothing) here, is widely available at stalls in the open-air markets, or tianguis, of Mexico City and the State of Mexico. These garments, often illegally smuggled from the United States, used to be an affordable apparel option for Mexican families.

No longer. Around the world, internet-savvy young consumers are embracing secondhand clothes as a hip fashion alternative. At Depop, one of the largest clothes resale platforms in the world, about 90% of its 26 million users are under 26 years old. Young Mexicans are behind the growing trend too.

Creating chic looks

“I think it’s representative of our generation, casting aside ‘Oh no, what will people say if I wear bale clothing?’ in favor of ‘I want to wear bale clothing,’” says Moisés Molina, 21, who’s seen the transformation up close. He grew up amid the city’s tianguis as his mother ran a bale clothing stall, attended at that time, he says, mostly by middle-aged housewives.

Now, Molina has more than 80,000 followers on TikTok, where he models — with lots of frolic and a dash of the camp aesthetic — the secondhand pieces he meticulously picks up at tianguis every month. “The ideology of my content is to look expensive with cheap clothing, that you can look incredible but without spending more than 500 pesos [around $25],” Molina says. “I don’t want to spread a message of consumption, to be consuming clothes on a massive scale, just the power to have your own style at low cost.”

What Molina and influencers like him do is curate — pick up the most unique and offbeat garment from the bale and create chic, fashionable looks. In their hands, bale becomes vintage, retro, preloved. As Efrén Sandoval, an anthropologist who specializes in border economies, puts it, curating involves cleaning the clothes — literally and metaphorically: “The garment is dirty because it’s from the bale, and it’s dirty in a social sense.”

Making a profit

Nadia Reyes, 26, began selling bale clothing on Instagram and TikTok out of her bedroom in Mexico City five years ago — but unlike Molina, she also resells it for a small profit. Twice a week, she tours the tianguis, both big and small stalls, where she spends up to three hours carefully selecting garments. When she gets home, she washes, irons and styles them. On Fridays, she delivers orders to customers around the city.

Established brands and retailers are betting big on secondhand apparel

“In the beginning, I would sell 15 to 20 pieces a week, but now I’m selling 80 to 100,” she says. Her account has just over 16,000 followers, but some videos reach over 2 million views. “Before, it was taboo. People were ashamed to say they bought bale clothing, [that] it’s poor people’s clothes, that it has bedbugs,” she says. “And now it’s fashionable.”

Reyes isn’t the only one looking to make a profit in the resale market. Aided by technology, established brands and retailers are betting big on secondhand apparel by setting up their own resale and rental shops, according to a 2022 report by thredUP, a United States-based resale platform. The same report predicts that the global secondhand clothing market will grow 127% worldwide by 2026, most of that driven by North American consumers.

GoTrendier, a Mexico-based online marketplace for secondhand clothes founded six years ago, has tripled its user base during the pandemic, says Ana Isabel Orvañanos, the company’s country manager for Mexico. Its 6 million users, both in Mexico and Colombia, upload an average of 20,000 garments per day on the platform, she adds. Driving up sales are what Orvañanos calls “heavy sellers”: “those who already have lots of garments and are very good at using the platform.”

"Thirdhand clothing"

But with so much opportunity for profit, what happens to those customers who relied on Mexico City’s tianguis to dress themselves and their families?

“I always used to buy clothes for myself and my children at the tianguis, but I don’t buy as much anymore because the price has gone up,” says Anabel Gutiérrez, 40, a mother of four children between the ages of 9 and 16, and a resident of the municipality of Tecámac in the State of Mexico.

“Before, I would find T-shirts for 5 pesos [25 cents], but now they’re selling for 50 [$2.50]. Imagine shopping for my children, for me and for my husband,” Gutiérrez says. She says she doesn’t know why bale clothing prices have risen. Now, she resorts to stalls that sell what some call “thirdhand clothing” — perhaps those garments young Mexicans and influencers have rejected.

Aline Suárez del Real Islas and Mar García are Global Press Journal reporters based in Mexico.

This story was originally published by Global Press Journal. Shannon Kirby, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

As Air Quality Worsens, Kampala Citizens Find It Difficult to Breathe
Green
Apophia Agiresaasi

As Air Quality Worsens, Kampala Citizens Find It Difficult to Breathe

Kampala’s air quality is much worse than globally accepted standards, but several interventions are being instituted to avert its effects.

KAMPALA, UGANDA — There’s something in Kampala’s air. Philomena Nabweru Rwabukuku’s body could tell even before she went to see a doctor. The retired teacher and her children used to get frequent asthma attacks, especially after they had been up and about in the city where there were many vehicles. It was worse when they lived in Naluvule, a densely populated Kampala suburb where traffic is dense.

“We were in and out of hospital most of the time. [The] attacks would occur like twice a week,” Nabweru says.

Her doctors blamed the air in Kampala, which is nine times more polluted than the World Health Organization’s recommended limit, according to a 2022 WHO report. By comparison, Bangladesh, the country with the world’s worst air pollution, is 13 times the recommended limit.

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Photo of Olivia Musoke taking care of her coffee plants in Uganda
Society
Beatrice Lamwaka

Why Uganda Doesn’t Drink Its Own Coffee

In Uganda, people grow coffee to export but rarely consume it themselves. Now a push to dispel myths about the beverage and introduce new ways to use the beans is changing that.

WAKISO — There are many reasons Ugandans give for not drinking coffee. Olivia Musoke heard it causes vaginal dryness. When she was breastfeeding her children, people also told her it would dry up her breast milk.

Musoke grows coffee, bananas and cassava. The mother of five from Mukono, in central Uganda, has been a coffee farmer for more than 42 years. Although the cassava and bananas she plants are for her own consumption, she has tasted only a handful of coffee beans after a friend said they would keep her alert in her old age. She sells most of the coffee she harvests.

“When it’s ready, men come in trucks and take all,” she says.

Although coffee is one of Uganda’s main agricultural products, making up about 15% of the country’s total exports, locals like Musoke consume very little of it. There are various reasons for this, including myths and misconceptions about coffee.

A cash crop 

Solomon Kapere, a coffee farmer from Kamuli, in eastern Uganda, says he has always thought of coffee as a cash crop. When he was younger, his grandfather had 10 acres of coffee plantation, but he does not remember ever drinking it.

The public and private sectors in Uganda are working to dispel myths by raising awareness and diversifying coffee products. In the process, they are broadening the market and increasing local consumption.

Uganda’s coffee owes its genesis to Malawi and the Ethiopian highlands. It was introduced in 1900 to provide the British colonial government with revenue. For this reason, some Ugandans associate coffee with forced colonial labor, hence the name kiboko, which means to whip or to cane in Kiswahili, says Daniel Karibwije, export trade specialist at Green Forest Safaris & Export Consulting, which promotes Uganda’s coffee exports abroad.

“This is ingrained in some people’s mind to this day,” Karibwije says. “Coffee is grown for others.”

Grown to be exported 

Since its introduction, production has grown. In 1925, coffee accounted for only 1% of the country’s exports, but by 1958, it had become the country’s chief export crop, overtaking cotton. In the 1970s, during Idi Amin’s regime, which was characterized by civil strife, the industry experienced setbacks, and coffee production decreased almost by half between 1972 and 1977.

In 2018, Ugandans consumed only 3% to 4% of the coffee produced in the country.

But the 1980s came with a liberalization process, leading to an increase in exports and payouts to farmers.Currently, Uganda exports a significant amount of coffee within the continent and worldwide. In 2020, it exported 26% of the continent’s coffee and 1.75% of the world’s coffee, an amount worth $539 million, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, an online visualization platform under the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Despite this global contribution, in February, Uganda announced a two-year suspension of its membership in the International Coffee Organization, an intergovernmental group, out of concerns that the organization didn’t favor the country’s farmers and other players. Uganda plans to use this time to focus more on increasing its domestic consumption.

In 2018, Ugandans consumed only 3% to 4% of the coffee produced in the country, according to a parliamentary committee report.

“Most people are more inclined to drinking tea. Coffee from way back has been a cash crop — grown to be sold, exported, while people kept tea close to their hearts,” says Karibwije.

Photo of Sonya Hadija Nali scrubbing a client's body with a coffee scrub

Sonya Hadija Nali scrubs a client’s body using a coffee scrub.

Beatrice Lamwaka/GPJ Uganda

Coffee as a beauty product 

Sonya Hadija Nali, who makes beauty products from coffee, hopes diversifying its utilization will help shift people’s attitudes and increase local consumption.

The mother of two has been experimenting with coffee. When her skin became dry and developed black spots, she turned to something she loved — coffee. Nali says she mixed coffee with coconut oil and added a little bit of honey and lemon. The concoction helped remove black spots from her skin and left it glowing. She started making the product, a body scrub, and selling it.

Now, Nali makes about 70 bottles of her body scrub a week. She markets on social media platforms, where she has hundreds of followers. Her product sells for 30,000 Ugandan shillings (about $8) a bottle.

Julius Nyanzi, a professor and bio-entrepreneur, makes coffee oil which is high in antioxidants that help the skin retain moisture. He has also created a coffee aroma dispenser that he sells to restaurants “so that they smell what they sell” to attract customers. Nyanzi, who studied pharmacology, has sold more than 2,000 oil-making machines to farmers.

The National Coffee Research Institute, a government agency, has been conducting research on how local ingredients like coffee can be used to make skin lotion, says Evans Atwijukire, technology developer at the Institute. The formulas are given to Ugandans who create products to sell both in Uganda and abroad.

Promoting coffee consumption 

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority, a government body that oversees the coffee industry, is promoting domestic coffee consumption by raising awareness about the benefits of the drink in hospitals and universities, says Doreen Rweihangwe, principal quality controller. It installed billboards on major roads in Kampala, the capital, and the city of Entebbe to promote coffee consumption. And it has been training baristas to prepare and serve quality coffee and encouraging them to participate in the Uganda National Barista Championship, part of the annual global barista competition that promotes excellence in coffee.

“The championship helps baristas to make good-quality coffee,” she says.

As a result of these coordinated efforts, local consumption is picking up. Rweihangwe cites indicators such as the increasing brands of coffee on the market and new cafes that are opening across the country.

We need a well-grown industry.

Yasir Ahmed, manager of Café Javas, one of Uganda’s major cafes with 13 branches, says Ugandans are now drinking more coffee than before, which he attributes to the efforts.

Ernest Bazanye, a writer, says he started appreciating coffee around 2010. He drinks his first cup after lunch “to beat postprandial depression” and get more work done, he says.

To Bazanye, Ugandans have always had a relationship with coffee, but what’s changing is how they consume it. While traditionally some people chewed the coffee beans, more people, especially older and middle-aged Ugandans, are beginning to brew and drink it.

There are benefits to improving local consumption, says Karibwije, the export specialist. “The economy would grow much faster with increased domestic consumption,” he says.

Rweihangwe agrees: “Ethiopia consumes most of its coffee and exports less. We need a well-grown industry.” She sees it as an opening to provide Ugandans with more jobs.

Deep Inside The Ecological Devastation Of Mexico’s Avocado Production
Green Or Gone
Maya Piedra

Deep Inside The Ecological Devastation Of Mexico’s Avocado Production

As avocado production stifles biodiversity, depletes water reserves and takes over once-forested land, farmers and environmentalists in Jalisco warn that Mexico’s “green gold” may not be so green after all.

ZAPOTLÁN EL GRANDE — Ten minutes away from downtown Ciudad Guzmán, the municipal capital of Zapotlán el Grande, is a small century-old ranch, where fruits and vegetables sprout from the ground and fall from the trees. It’s a picture of biodiversity fast fading from Mexico's western state of Jalisco.

Ranch owners Rogelio Trejo and Yaskara Silva, who inherited the land from Trejo’s parents, have seen the change take place. Once upon a time, sage would turn surrounding mountains into a sea of blue-green. Now, there are avocado farms as far as the eye can see.

“They’ve destroyed our natural forests,” Trejo says.

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illustration of a woman in nature contemplating a framed picture of an older woman
Migrant Lives
Linda Mujuru*

When Migrants Vanish: Families Quietly Endure Uncertainty

Zimbabweans cling to hope even after years of silence from loved ones who have disappeared across borders.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Blessing Tichagwa can barely remember her mother. Like hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, Noma Muyambo emigrated to South Africa in search of work, leaving baby Blessing, now 15, behind with her grandmother.

The last time they saw her was nine years ago, when Blessing was 6. Muyambo returned for one week, then left again — and has not sent any messages or money since.

“She promised she would return in April 2021, but she never did,” the teenager says. “Even her phone number doesn’t go through.”

Porous borders make it easy for Zimbabweans to emigrate — but this freedom of movement can also lead to tragic consequences. Of the millions who have left for South Africa and other neighboring countries since 2000, an unknown number have vanished: buried as unidentified bodies or silenced by illness, injury, detention, trafficking, economic insecurity or communication challenges.

“Some drown in rivers or are attacked by crocodiles, and others are victims of foreign hostility,” says Ario Memory Mugwagwa, public relations officer at Zimbabwe’s Department of Immigration.

The number of missing migrants is on the rise

Marie-Astrid Blondiaux, a coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Southern Africa, confirms that the number of Zimbabweans reported missing after migrating has been rising — including cases that are now more than a decade old. Families don’t know where to begin when their loved ones disappear in another country, she says, and most migrants haven’t prepared for communication challenges and emergency situations.

“I would advise migrants, including children, to learn by heart key phone numbers and to agree on a meeting point in case of separation,” she says. “You should also keep your family regularly informed about your whereabouts, especially when crossing a border. Tell them when you have reached your destination. Let them know you are safe and well, even if you don’t intend to maintain the contact in the longer term.”

The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, also cites lack of documentation as part of the problem. In South Africa, home to Zimbabwe’s largest diaspora community, more than 84% of the estimated 1.7 million Zimbabweans are undocumented, according to 2018 data collected by FinMark Trust, a South African nonprofit focused on financial inclusion. Inefficiencies and bureaucratic delays in passport applications, immigration control and border management mean that “even Zimbabweans with access to legal documentation resort to crossing the border into South Africa irregularly,” states a 2021 report by the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project.

Grief and economic struggles 

Across Africa, the ICRC’s missing persons caseload had reached nearly 44,000 people in 2020, including migrants. The IOM’s Africa database has collected more than 11,000 cases of missing migrants since 2014, compared to fewer than 7,000 cases in the Americas during the same period.

Officials from both agencies agree these numbers only represent a fraction of a wider, undocumented humanitarian tragedy — one that reverberates globally, from Mexico to Myanmar, as migrants flee violence, poverty and natural disasters. For the families left behind, their grief and economic struggles from losing a breadwinner are compounded by judgment from neighbors and peers until they can confirm the fate of their loved one.

It's a painful experience for me. I don't know whether she is alive, or married

Lainah Guyo, 67, says she hasn’t heard from her daughter Deline in more than 15 years, since the young woman left Harare to seek employment in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“It’s a painful experience for me. I don’t know whether she is alive, or married, how she is living and whether she is well,” Guyo says tearfully.

Long and mysterious silences from closed ones

All she has left are old photographs and memories, and occasional words of comfort from her niece, Resta Jengwa. She traveled to South Africa with Deline but says they went separate ways soon afterward.

Although she has been unable to track down her cousin, Jengwa says long silences don’t necessarily mean something bad happened.

“For some, they don’t keep in touch with their family because they don’t want to be burdened by family problems back home and they just want to live their lives on their own,” she says. “While for others, it’s the issue of not having requisite documents like work permits, and if they go back home they might not be able to return for work.”

In 2016, the ICRC launched a pilot project to work with Zimbabwean families with loved ones believed to be missing in South Africa. Investigators found 47 migrants alive and helped them reestablish communication; 106 were identified among the thousands of “unknown” bodies in South Africa’s mortuaries and cemeteries. Today, the agency advises families to report missing migrants directly to the Zimbabwe Republic Police, which is working with South African authorities to continue these investigations.

In rural Masvingo, Conilia Chiwidziriro held out hope for nearly 20 years that her son George Chiremba would resurface after disappearing in South Africa. In 2016, she learned of his death from a friend who had witnessed the violent attack that killed him, but until the ICRC project confirmed the report last year, she preferred to blame his silence on the region’s poor infrastructure.

“When he left, there were no phones to communicate, only letters,” she says. “But he never sent one.”

Her grandson George has followed his namesake’s footsteps to South Africa but remains in contact.

“It pains me that I never met him, but I realized that there is nothing I can do about it,” he says of his father, by phone. “If he was around, maybe I could have finished school and had a better life, but I also had to come to South Africa to look for better opportunities and a better life.”

Rare hints of hope 

Some families get good news after years of searching. Cosmas Mafusire stopped responding to phone calls and emails from his family shortly after migrating to South Africa with his wife and son in 2007, but with help from the ICRC in 2019, he reconnected by phone with his niece, Marcia Mafusire. He blamed economic difficulties for his 12 years of silence, she says.

“We had a feeling that he was going through something because there was no way he would abandon us intentionally,” she says. “He was a breadwinner in the family.”

While rare, stories like this give hope to other families of missing migrants — even those who have been missing for more than a decade.

photo of a teenage girl standing alone

Although she has not heard from her mother in nine years, Blessing Tichagwa, 15, still dreams that she will return from South Africa.

Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe

More cooperation could help

More cooperation and coordination between governments could help, says Julia Black, IOM Missing Migrants Project coordinator. She recommends that countries work together to provide safe, legal immigration avenues while also developing more efficient and empathetic procedures to investigate missing migrant cases.

“In Zimbabwe, the state must develop a multipronged national strategy to prevent further deaths and disappearances, improve search strategies and support families of the missing,” she says.

Jane Muyambo, Blessing’s aunt, says they have four family members unaccounted for outside of Zimbabwe. Three of her sisters, including Blessing’s mother, vanished after leaving for South Africa more than a decade ago. Her only son, Ronald Razerera, disappeared at age 19, after crossing into Botswana 18 years ago.

“It’s painful. It’s hard for me to accept that I may not find or see him again,” she says. “Some nights, I hardly sleep and I get stressed from thinking about him.”

Blessing worries for her own future. Her mother’s fate remains unknown, and her birth father has never acknowledged her. For now, she lives with a cousin in Harare, but an aunt has urged her to leave school and return to their village to care for the grandmother who once cared for her.

“I envy other children when they are with their parents,” Blessing says. “This is something that may never be for me.”

*Linda Mujuru is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

A young woman, pregnant, laying on the ground
Geopolitics
Noella Nyirabihogo

DRC, Where Armed Groups Are Targeting Pregnant Women

In just three months, armed groups in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo killed nearly 500 civilians. The statistics fail to capture the full scale of the suffering, as limited health care access also claims the lives of pregnant women and infants.

ITURI — On a typical day, this village would wind down by 7 p.m.: the animals back in their stables, the men at a local pub huddled over a battery-powered radio, the women at home preparing dinner. But those predictable rhythms came to a halt one night in May 2021, as armed men descended on the village, setting fire to mud houses and murdering the people who lived in them.

Esther Wabiwa fled the region of Fataki, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that night, along with her husband and two young children. They stumbled through the bush for three days, spending their nights sleeping fitfully on wet leaves. Wabiwa, pregnant with her third child at the time, was gripped by contractions. The farther they walked, the stronger they grew.

“This isn’t the time,” her husband said, anxious and overwhelmed. “Can’t he wait a bit longer?”

He couldn’t. “His head was already between my thighs,” says Wabiwa, 29. The baby was born in the middle of the night, delivered on bare, wet ground. “I cut the umbilical cord with my own teeth,” she says. “I didn’t have anything else on me.” Then, fearing that rest would cost them their lives, the family walked for another three days.

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men standing in a crowd
Geopolitics
Evidence Chenjerai

Nelson Chamisa, The Outsider Shaking Up Zimbabwe’s Presidential Race

Backers of the opposition's presidential candidate see hope in upstart victories in Malawi and Zambia. But in Zimbabwe, a single party has been in power for more than four decades.

MUTARE — Precious Dinha elbows her way into a packed soccer stadium. Despite thunderclouds looming above, thousands of yellow-clad Zimbabweans are singing, dancing and thrusting their index fingers skyward. They wave placards in Shona and English saying, “We need democracy in Zimbabwe” and “Police stop brutality against citizens.” Dinha unfurls her own large white banner: “We want free and fair elections.”

Soon Zimbabwe’s leading opposition presidential candidate, 44-year-old Nelson Chamisa, bounds onto a stage. “Do you embrace the new?” he asks. “Yes!” the crowd shouts. Dinha traveled close to four hours from Harare, the capital, to hear Chamisa speak. She attends every Chamisa rally she can, wearing yellow, the color of his movement, and reveling in the festive atmosphere. This event marks the formal introduction of his new political party, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), in eastern Zimbabwe ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Dinha, 32, believes Chamisa’s relative youth and outsider perspective can help resuscitate Zimbabwe’s listless economy, with high levels of unemployment, inflation and food insecurity. “I have never been employed despite having professional qualifications. I do not even know what a pay slip looks like,” Dinha says. She was trained as a human resources manager but raises chickens and sells secondhand clothes to get by. “He understands us as youths, and there are promises of reviving the economy so that we can also have jobs.”

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