Gauteng wastepickers receive support from government

Wastepickers at the launch of the project in Tembisa. Pic by Ramatamo Sehoai

The project is part of Bontle Ke Botho, an initiative aimed at mobilising communities and other relevant stakeholders to work with government to promote a clean and green environment. At its core is the fight against poverty and unemployment.

Tembisa, Gauteng, South Africa

It was a moment of joy for 61-year-old Simon Maluleke when he was presented with the news that he is no longer going to use his bicycle to transport waste but a three-wheel tuck-tuck, to be given to him and other waste pickers by the Gauteng government. The father of five children recalled how painful it was when he was dismissed from work in 1997. To maintain his family, he resorted to picking, sorting and selling recyclable waste. He has never regretted his decision.

“Through this work I managed to send my children to school and universities. I’m grateful with this assistance from the government. It will go a long a way in ensuring that we are effective in our work,” he said proudly.

On Sunday morning together with other waste pickers he went to Mehlareng Stadium in Tembisa, Ekurhuleni for the official launch of the Informal Waste Pickers Pilot Project. There they were shown these waste collection vehicles.

Delivering his keynote address Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, said there’s wealth in waste and people must not take it lightly. Taking the example of Maluleke who works seven days a week and collects waste three times a day, Makhura said that with the new vehicles, he will be able to collect more waste, more quickly and triple the money he makes per day. He added that motorists will have less reason to complain that waste pickers are disturbing traffic with the trolleys they are pushing on the streets to deliver waste to recycling depots.

“We call it a waste economy, which is part of reviving the township economy. We want our townships to be zones  of economic opportunities,” Makhura said. While collecting waste helps in keeping townships clean, recycling contributes R17-billion to South Africa’s economy. Sadly, Makhura added, black people are at the low-end of this value chain. The launch of this pilot project as an attempt by government to uplift and empower them.

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The project is part of Bontle Ke Botho, an initiative aimed at mobilising communities and other relevant stakeholders to work with government to promote a clean and green environment. At its core is the fight against poverty and unemployment.

In an article that appeared on DailyMaverick, the MEC for Economic Development, Enviroment, Agriculture and Rural Development, Lebogang Maile, wrote that waste-pickers save municipalities approximately R750-million per annum.

But according to wastepickers they do not receive any support from most municipalities and are at the mercy of middle-men who pay them low prices for their waste materials.

Some of the motorised three-wheeler vehicles that were handed over to cooperatives. Pic by Ramatamo Sehoai

Simon Mbatha who heads the South African Waste Pickers Association as the president said this was quite a significant milestone looking at how long the journey has been of engaging the government to recognise them. Providing waste pickers with vehicles and training is one of the many things they want to see happening in the waste picking industry.

“There be must transformation. We can’t only be reduced to trolley pushers or waste pickers. We want to run formal businesses in the sector and own big companies,” he said.

Another waste picker, Thandi Maseko from Minenhle Cooperative, welcomed the initiative and said the lack of resources and equipment has been their abiding challenge, hampering their productivity and earning potential. “I collect waste in malls and hospitals. Cages are small and we can’t collect enough waste. Some of us walk to deliver our waste and it takes time. Hopefully these delivery vehicles will bring some impact,” she said.

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