Friday 03 August 2012

groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
South African Waste Pickers Association

Waste pickers vulnerable without government protection

Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 03 August 2012 – The death of teen waste picker Nqobile Maphumulo at the New England Road landfill site on Wednesday is evidence that those already facing extreme poverty remain unprotected by government.

 Living in the Cinderella Park Township, near the suburb of Eastwood, Nqobile bunked school to earn money for shoes through waste picking and was tragically killed by a Wasteman truck [1]. It is through waste picking that the most vulnerable in our country are reclaiming livelihoods as recyclable waste is a valuable resource and serves as a source of income for many. Unfortunately, many landfill sites are places of danger for those working on them daily and in the case of Pietermaritzburg, the local Msunduzi municipality has in the past tried to forcibly remove the waste pickers from the landfill, thus impacting upon their right to earn a living.

groundWork [2], together with the local waste pickers who are linked to SAWPA [3], have recently been pressuring Msunduzi Local Municipality to sign an agreement which will open the door for uMgungundlovu District Municipality to begin construction on a materials recovery facility (MRF) [4]. The district have worked successfully with the waste pickers and have secured R21 million from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) to build the MRF. This facility will formally employ the majority of waste pickers already working on the landfill in safer working conditions a distance away from the actual dumpsite.

groundWork's Waste Campaign manager, Musa Chamane: "If the MRF had been fully approved by the local council Maphumulo's death would not have happened. The district municipality would have started building the facility, as Mpofana Municipality has done in Mooi River, had it not been delayed by the local municipality in Pietermaritzburg who has yet to give the formal go-ahead for the project".

Providing formal facilities also ensures worker (waste picker) health and safety.  Simon Mbata from SAWPA calls on "municipalities to develop systems that will ensure safe working conditions for waste pickers.  This can start off with the development of material recovery facilities that local waste picker cooperatives work with, and which help to break the cycle of poverty and create livelihoods for themselves.'

In groundWork's publication Reclaiming Livelihoods (2008) [5], an interview with one of the waste pickers illustrated that delaying formalisation of waste pickers at landfills by local government could result in "possible injury and death if trucks offloading waste hit one of the reclaimers scrambling around them searching for material". It is four years later and the waste pickers here are still struggling with these issues.

Waste pickers are planning to march in protest of Msunduzi Municipality's failure to sign for a MRF at the landfill site.


 [1] "Trampled by a dump truck", Gabisile Ngcobo, The Witness, 02 August 2012

[2] groundWork is an environmental justice organization working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issue focusing on Air Quality, Climate Justice and Energy, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is a member of Friends of the Earth International

[3] The South African Waste Pickers Association is a movement of people working on waste dumps and in streets collecting waste and earning an income from selling this waste material for recycling.

[4] A materials recovery facility is a specialised plant that reduces municipal solid waste going to landfills by receiving recyclable materials and preparing them for end-user manufacturers.

[5] groundWork's publication Reclaiming Livelihoods: The Role of Reclaimers in Municipal Waste Management Systems (2008)


Simon Mbata, SAWPA chairperson at 073 003 8170 or

Musa Chamane, groundwork Waste Campaign manager at 033 342 5662 or 082 589 7928 or

For media related queries, please contact:

Megan Lewis at 083 450 5541 or