SAWPA Biennial 2022: Celebrating 13 years of movement building

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We, the South African Waste Pickers Association today democratically elected a new leadership structure. This follows a three-day convening of our SAWPA leadership at our biennial meeting held in Observatory, Johannesburg which was attended by 120 waste picker leaders from all nine provinces and are based in 38 municipalities around the country. Our meeting also welcomed visitors from other African countries including Kenya, Ghana, and Sierra Leone.

During the meeting we also welcomed engagements and presentations from the City of Johannesburg and the national Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment. We appreciate the involvement of local and national government entities and see this as an important step in making sure that government works collaboratively with waste pickers to address the issue of inclusion of waste pickers to address the full lifecycle sound management of waste.

As a grassroot national organisation we were also honoured to have Abahlali BaseMjondolo president, Sbu Zikode address our leaders. Abahlali BaseMjondolo pledged their solidarity with waste pickers and also shared experiences and strategies on mobilizing.

We also would like to express our sincere gratitude to our founding partner groundWork and our global partner GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) for continuing to work closely with SAWPA since it was founded in 2009.

Over and above the election of a new leadership structure, as SAWPA we also highlighted some of the main issues and challenges facing the organisation and waste pickers in different municipalities around the country. These include the following:

  • Just transition – how waste pickers take part and are included within this process. Waste pickers are well informed on how this affects them and their work and lead with critical work on Zero Waste strategies across South Africa;
  • Democracy and transparency – maintaining the democracy and openness within the organisation, to make sure that all waste pickers are united and all speak with one voice;
  • Waste picker national registration – the ongoing process of registration of waste pickers by SAWPA and the department of Environmental Affairs across the country establishes an important database for SAWPA’s own organising and to ensure waste pickers are recognised by government in all corners of our country;
  • Waste Picker integration – the drive to engage all municipalities to ensure that waste pickers are formally integrated into the municipal waste management systems;
  • Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme – waste pickers must be the primary beneficiaries of the various industry sector EPR scheme because of the crucial role they play in the recovery of materials – without waste pickers there will be no recovery, recycling nor circularity.
  • Safety and security – issues of violent armed gangs and groups that intimidate and create an unsafe environment for waste pickers, especially women. This does not only threaten the livelihood of waste pickers but also their lives.

We congratulate all those appointed to serve and lead the waste picker revolution, the organisation pledges its support in working with the newly elected leaders. We are convinced that these are the leaders who are capable and fit to maintain unity within the organisation, and also strengthen solidarity with all our national and global partners.