'Please see us as workers': Waste collectors march for recognition
Trash collectors say their hard work keeps city clean, feeds their families
"We want them to take us seriously, not as nyaope people, but as workers."
This was the message waste collectors had for the city of Johannesburg and Pikitup when they marched to their offices on Thursday morning.
As they made their way over the Nelson Mandela Bridge, waste collectors pushed their trolleys filled with plastic bottles with pride.
One marcher, wearing a skeleton mask, wheeled across the bridge on his trolley.
"We are here today to be recognised. It's that simple. This is my life," the man said, before taking off on his trolley.
A second marcher wore a monkey mask.
Many carried placards that read: "Please see us as workers."
Another placard read: "We are not nyaope addicts but workers."
An organiser from the African Reclaimers Organisation, Luyanda Hlatshwayo, said they collected recyclable material in and around the city daily.
"There are guys that work on the landfills and collect waste from the city park service trucks. Then there are your day-to-day guys that collect material on the streets from as early as 3am," Hlatshwayo said.
He said waste collectors travel as far as 60km-80km a day, pulling about 250kg.
"The march that we are doing today is just looking for recognition, because if you are looking at it, we are actually subsidising the municipality."
He said they collect about 80% of the waste in the city. After waste is collected, it is sorted and then sold to recycling traders in the Johannesburg CBD.
"The municipality is not giving us proper infrastructure for us to sort out our material. We need to move up the value chain. The poorest of the poor are the ones that are not making it."
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He said two or three years ago, they made R3,000-R4,000 a month.
"Now you make R1,500 a month and that is not enough to feed anyone."
Michella Hattingh, from Remade Recycling, said the company had a designated area at its Newtown branch for the waste collectors.
"We bought that area specifically for that. They are protected there and they can do any amount of recycling there, away from the trucks and the rest of the operation.
"Each bag that they bring in, we weigh and pay them immediately."
Hattingh said waste collectors at the Newtown branch contributed almost half the volume of waste the company received.
"They are a very important source of material for us, so we look after them."
Justine Khoele has been collecting waste for the past 24 years. She normally goes to the dumping sites.
"We are the pillars and founders of this job," she said.
She said through waste collecting she is able to support her two children, both of whom are studying at colleges in Johannesburg.
"I am the breadwinner in my house with waste recycling. We want government to take us seriously."
Abraham Ramogale said he collects waste in and around Soweto. He started as a waste collector 15 years ago.
Ramogale said he makes about R500 a week .
"With that little money, I am supporting my family. I have four children and we need the government to take us seriously."