Displaced waste pickers in Pietermaritzburg embark on protest action

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Waste pickers operating in the New England Road landfill site in Pietermaritzburg are today protesting against been denied access to their work space, the landfill site. The waste pickers have not been able to access the landfill in the past 3 months. Waste pickers make a living through picking and sorting recyclable materials and the Pietermaritzburg landfill is their source of livelihood.

On the morning of the 26th August, more than 10 private security, police cars stormed the site and a helicopter hovered above the frightened and confused waste pickers, including the so called “illegitimate waste pickers” who have since settled at the landfill. Waste pickers have been recycling at the site for more than 30 years now.

The city has had its fair share of administrative challenges including a constant burning landfill site which has led to litigation by South African Human Rights Commission against the uMsunduzi Local Municipality. The litigation critiqued the operations at the landfill and contravening of the licence conditions which resulted to a number of waste pickers who have lost their lives and some are paralysed due to uncontrolled heavy machinery.

The council had been previously advised by the likes of groundWork, and the uMgungundlovu District Municipality as well as waste pickers themselves to say access control is needed at the site. groundWork used to have meetings at the landfill with waste pickers and officials but it became more and more dangerous as armed gangs were visible at the site.

The waste pickers committee had a meeting with city officials and they agreed that at one point the landfill has to be closed for couple of months, so that those who do not go to the landfill for recycling can leave. When the police raid came it was believed by the committee that the raid had good intentions. When the waste pickers ask the officials from the municipality, they were told to forget about going back to the landfill.

Some of the waste pickers grievances include:

  • Not having any source of income other than recycling to support themselves.
  • Waste pickers are raising, feeding their families for over 20 years through recycling at the New England Road Landfill.
  • Waste pickers previously warned the municipality about having access control at the gate to control who enters the site but this was not implemented.
  • Waste pickers have reported a number of issues and cases to the landfill manager and even provided solutions to some of these problems, but these were ignored.
  • National legislation approves waste pickers existence at landfills as long as that is controlled.
  • The recycling industry in Pietermaritzburg is on the verge of collapse due to waste pickers not being able to provide and contribute waste materials.


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