DOMBOSHAWA — As Albert Sagiya (25) expertly chips away at excess layers of wood, putting finishing touches to a coffin, he admits its sight sends chills down his spine.
He trekked all the way from Hurungwe to settle and work here — about 40km from Harare — and earn a living for his young family, which he brought along.
“I couldn’t leave my wife behind. I want her with me always because I am afraid of getting into the coffin,” he jokes, insinuating temptations could lure one into promiscuity and, consequently, death.
The only time he is comfortable getting into the coffin is when he slides in just to see if the shape snugly fits the form of a human body, like a hand easily slips into a worn, familiar glove.
The coffin manufacturing business, naturally, thrives on death.
But for Sagiya and his partner in business, Michael Matumba (27), it would not be right to pray for people to die so they could continue to draw sustenance from their line of work.
“Of course you can’t pray to God for people to die so that you get business,” Sagiya laughs. “It’s only natural for people to die. That way we have business.”
Coffins for adults cost between $65 and $100 depending on the make and artistry while those for children go for an average of $30.
In a country where the scourge of HIV and Aids is believed to cost as many as 1 300 lives per week, the coffin-manufacturing business has proved lucrative for many including Sagiya and Matumba.
The manufacturers get their planks from Mbare, while handles and nails are available locally.
Their customers come mainly from Harare and surrounding communities.
The business is very profitable, according to Sagiya who says a coffin that costs $30 to manufacture can be sold for between $65 and $70.
“Good items sell themselves,” says Matumba. “We can sell as many as five coffins in just one week.”
Matumba learnt the trade from his father. He says he tried his hand at a lot of jobs before, but could not stay in one job for long.
Sagiya could not finish his “O” Level studies in 2004. He said he did not take school seriously, but always believed that he had his gift to fall on — and that is just what has happened.
“I didn’t go to any carpentry school. But I was very good at craft in high school,” he says.
The two carpenters — who work with two other colleagues — are hoping to register their company and spread their wings, but there are still challenges they are striving to overcome first.
“We need things like compressors and routers because currently we don’t have electrical machines that can enable us to craft various coffin designs with a variety of styles. At the moment we are limited,” says Sagiya.
The carpenters also make beds and tables, among other wooden items.