Community activists are calling for government to intervene in the waste pickers industry. The community of Thulani Snake Park informal settlement in Soweto wants the government to regulate the industry by protecting waste pickers and thus allow the community to make a meaningful living from collecting waste.
“Residing in a community that is contaminated by mine waste radioactivity is not easy for the people of Thulani Snake Park, as this causes health hazards and endangers our livelihoods. People around the area are now making a living as waste pickers to survive” says community member and activist Thokozile Mntambo.
Picking up waste has allowed the community to make money from recycling, thereby ensuring that they can pay for electricity, paraffin and food.
Waste picking is not covered by any type of legislation or policy, and waste management policies in South Africa cover only the formal waste sector.
“It is hard for women waste pickers as they need to wake up early and walk long distance pushing a trolley to get items like metal scrap and plastic bottles for recycling” says Mntambo. In the suburban areas’ women waste pickers get labelled with derogatory names such as “bomalala pipes” while security guards also chase them away from picking up waste.
“Waste pickers also do not get enough money from waste collection because the scrap yard does not pay much, especially when the scale is small,” continued Mntambo.
A 2017 report by Department of Science and Technology through the National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence in Food Security found that on average waste pickers made between R290 to R 770 a week from the waste they collect.
In Thulani Snake Park, some of the waste pickers are drug addicts, who use the returns from selling scrap metal to feed their addiction. This contributes to the dangers faced by women waste pickers who are exposed to intimidation by these addicts.
“The Thulani Snake Park community is calling on government to formulate policies that will ensure that they are recognisedas an informal sector,and to stop the municipality from privatising the waste picking sector,” concludes Mntambo
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