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Tensions between waste pickers and Johannesburg municipality escalate

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City does not agree to demands

Photo of waste pickers\' protest
Johannesburg waste pickers sent a list of demands to the municipality, but there appears to be little progress towards integrating them into formal services. Photo: Zoë Postman
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On Friday morning, about 20 waste pickers from African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) picketed outside the Pikitup offices in Braamfontein demanding that the Acting Managing Director, Segala Malahlela, address them.

Some waste pickers were holding “missing person” posters referring to Malahlela and ​Member of Mayoral Committee for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Nico de Jager, who they said had failed to engage with waste pickers.

This came after Malahlela had received the waste pickers’ memorandum at a march on 2 May and promised to respond within two weeks. He had not responded by the time of the picket.

Some of the demands included an end to any plans to hire private companies to recycle, a stop to landfill closures, opening of recycling hubs, providing protective equipment and compensating waste pickers who help the City with the registration of waste pickers.

They also demanded that the City implement the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) guidelines and the City’s framework policy for integration of waste pickers.

“Sooner or later these posters will say ‘wanted’ instead of ‘missing’…You promised to respond to us within two weeks but you haven’t done that. You are talking to the media about us but you are not talking to us,” one waste picker, Luyanda Hlatshwayo, said on a loud hailer.

Representatives from the group were called up to make an appointment with Malahlela but they were refused the appointment upon arrival because one member was recording.

Eli Kodisang, organiser of waste picker integration at civil rights NGO WIEGO, told GroundUp that the lack of response was a reflection of the “lack of compassion, accountability and attitude of public officials towards poor people”.

“If they were unable to meet our deadline, they could have just sent us an email to say that…but they cannot just keep quiet and not communicate with us,” he said.

Hlatshwayo said if they were not going to meet around a table to discuss solutions, “we will meet in the streets and it’s not going to be nice.”

After about three hours of picketing, Mlawule Mashego, a researcher at Pikitup, came down to address the group. He said Malahlela was in a meeting but he had a response from the City and Pikitup to the waste pickers’ memorandum.

He said Pikitup and the City committed to implementing the DEA guidelines and the City’s framework policy.

But he said landfills were running out of space so they were inevitably going to close. He said Pikitup would engage with stakeholders to look for alternative means of income for waste pickers who work on landfills.

Mashego said the City still needed to assess its budget to see if it could provide waste pickers with protective gear but he said the gear would only be given to South Africans.

A “high level task team” had been set up to report to the Chief Operations Officer of Pikitup to address integration of waste pickers, according to Mashego. He said he would suggest that there be waste picker representatives included in the task team.

Addressing the compensation of waste pickers for registration, Mashego said this issue had not been raised by waste pickers in the previous task team meetings. “It was suggested by waste pickers’ representatives and mutually agreed that waste pickers would volunteer and mobilise to help with registration,” he said.

But Stephen Malatji, one of the waste pickers, said they had only agreed to volunteer because they thought it would be a short period of time. “But it has been dragging on for so long and we still have not received our cards … we are using our own money for transport and food on days where we have to travel from one area to the next for registration… you would think the City would compensate us for helping them,” said Malatji.

ARO Chairperson Eva Mokoena said: “That response is rubbish…why did we have to come here to fetch it? They know that what they wrote to us here is nothing.”

“After all our efforts trying to meet with them, trying to solve things, this is an insult to us,” she said.

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