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Scrap metal yards: “the people’s bank”

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As unemployment grows, scrap metal dealers have increased

Photo of a man at a scrap yard
Thulani Mthembu, 51, arrives at a scrap yard in Brakpan. He walks miles looking for scrap metal to sell although he suffers from arthritis. He says he has been unable to get a disability grant. Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro
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By 8am people are queueing at scrap yards around Gelukdale, Tsakane, Brakpan and Kwathema in Ekhurhuleni, bringing scrap metal to sell. Some bring what they have found in plastic bags, others come with wheelbarrows and wheelie bins.

As unemployment grows, scrap metal dealers have increased. Metal sells for R10 to R50 a kilogram. It is seen as more profitable than collecting plastic or cardboard and easier to transport because a small amount of metal weighs more than cardboard. Scrap metal collectors say they can make between R50 to R250 a day.

Don Wilson, 55, showed GroundUp a small plastic bag with a large ball of copper wire he’d gathered. It will be enough to buy bread for his three children. “A little bit of scrap buys a loaf of bread for my children everyday. If my children have bread then I’m happy,” says Wilson.

Vusi Mhlanga from Kwathema works as a gardener and supplements his income selling scrap. “If l can buy a sack of mealie meal, a cabbage and a sack of potatoes, l know my family can survive for a few weeks.”

Given Smith, 26, a scrap metal collector from Geluksdale, gathers brass or copper, travelling as far as Brakpan on foot to look for scrap. “One does not find scrap metal while in a taxi, it’s better to walk,” he says. His preferred scrap yard is nicknamed “the people’s bank”.

Nhlanhla Nkosi, from an informal settlement in Tsakane, says she used to pick up plastic containers, but collecting metal is less labour. She looks after her two grandchildren and her daughter who is unemployed. “I wash clothes for people sometimes, but it’s not enough,” she says.

She says scrap is running out and she has to take a taxi as far as Boksburg to find metal these days.

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TOPICS:  Economy