Wastepickers tell of poor conditions

Warren Jenniker, Emmanuel Mnqawuli, Samuel Fortune and Basilino Oerson received trolleys from Distell. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Wastepickers collect waste and contribute to cleaning the urban environment at no cost to government.

Wastepickers who scour the streets of Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain for recyclables complained about lack of recognition and their poor working conditions. They were speaking at an event organised by Distell, a multinational brewing and beverage company, in Khayelitsha on Friday. Four wastepickers were presented with trolleys made by Maker Station.

50-year-old Samuel Fortune from Tafelsig in Mitchell’s Plain claims that he was the first wastepicker in his area. “I have been scurreling for 25 years and now I do it with my wife. My day starts at 03h00 everyday. We go out in the dark and we are always faced with thugs who want to rob us of our money or the waste that we have collected,” he said.

Mbulelo Mgolombane, who buys recyclables from wastepickers and sells it to big recycling companies, said that they buried two wastepickers recently who were knocked down by cars. “They are not safe from the thugs and the cars on the road. Because most of them use grocery shop trolleys they have to push them on the road and because some roads are small they get knocked by cars at night,” he said.

Mgolombane told Elitsha that he buys about 850kg of plastic, bottles, white paper and cans everyday from wastepickers.

Wastepickers collect waste to sell to recyclers and by doing so are contributing to the cleanliness of the city and the general environment. “Ours is seen as dirty work, even though we work hard and contribute to the cleanliness of our cities. We hope that one day we will be recognised,” said Mgolombane.

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Ron Mukanya, who is a director of sustainability at the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning admitted that wastepickers play a huge role at no cost to government. “They create jobs for themselves and contribute to the clean environment of the city even though they are not paid by the City or government,” said Mukanya.

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