- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

SOWETO, South Africa — The coal sellers are up before first light. Rubbing their eyes, they stumble along to the muddy coal yards to begin another day of fueling this sprawling township.

It’s hard work, lugging the bulging burlap bags of coal chunks on one’s back, but it’s an honest living, said Sipho Mthethwa, 24, who recently was released from prison, where he served time for stealing cars.

He now is among the small army of Soweto’s young men who take to the township streets on horse-drawn carts shouting in a singsong voice “amalahle” — Zulu for coal.

Dogs bark, horseshoes click on asphalt, and women emerge from tin shacks and squat brick houses. The sales begin.

Their faces, hands and jackets coated in coal dust, the sellers hoist the 55-pound sacks on their backs and carry them to the buyers’ doors.

The coal is used in large, square stoves for cooking, boiling water and heating homes. Most homes in the township outside Johannesburg have electricity, but the cost is high, so many people use coal to economize, especially in winter.

The sellers are out until the sun goes down, then they head back to the coal yards, steering the horses with their feet.

They whistle at girls. And they punch each other playfully, making jokes about how they will spend the 300 rand — a little more than $40 — that they make each week.

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