South Africa fares well against other countries in terms of recycling with reclaimers commonly known as the waste pickers, accelerating the recycling rate. The recycling industry offers income opportunities to just over 60 000 South African citizens most of which are informal reclaimers. This hand-to-mouth opportunity for reclaimers has been recently challenged by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) which has forced the country to implement lockdown.
The lockdown stringent measures have been gradually and carefully eased off but that is not enough for reclaimers to provide for their families as they did prior the lockdown. The reclaimers receive little relief from the government and have their sole way of earning an income, put on halt. Earlier in April, an application that was submitted by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) to the North Gauteng High Court on behalf of reclaimers to be recognized as essential workers was dismissed. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the application was rather “opportunistic” and that the work they do does not entail waste and refusal removal but rather a “collection and sale of abandoned material.”
Luyanda Hlatshwayo, a reclaimer from Bekezela informal settlement in Johannesburg and the head of the African Reclaimers Organization (ARO), says that the government is not giving them eyeteeth in this devastating time but in fact overlooking them.
In a radio show called COVID-19 approach hosted by Madibaz Radio, Luyanda expressed that the work they do helps many families because it requires no interviews nor documentation but one to wake up very early and collect waste. It is a significant approach to not only pollution but also the unemployment rate in South Africa.
With the government not helping, reclaimers like Luyanda are left to wonder how they will survive if their only means of making money has been put on hold. The African Reclaimers Organization head says that the waste pickers stay in informal settlement where information from the media takes a while to reach them.
“Most of the reclaimers only found that a national lockdown was being implemented on the first day of the national lockdown,” Luyanda said.
In a study conducted by Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), it was found that reclaimers save municipalities over R700 in landfill costs and waste pickers only benefitting on average, a meagre R75 per day. Recycling is an economy on its own, if the government recognized waste pickers as essential workers, alternatives ways of collecting waste could have been made that would have seen the government benefiting and waste pickers making off a living , Luyanda said. “We are environmental agents; we are the backbone of the recycling economy.”
By Ashley Malepe