Waste pickers shot and Buffelsdraai landfill site closure in Durban

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On 12 July 2023, one person was declared deceased and 17 others injured after the eThekwini municipal landfill site security guards located at the Buffelsdraai landfill site, North of Durban Verulam, shot them. Looking for food and recyclable materials became a daytime nightmare for the waste pickers of Buffelsdraai. Although the circumstances of what caused the incident have not been concluded nor confirmed, it is clear that the nature of the violent tactics used against waste pickers is now ever increasing in South Africa. Unfortunately, the nature of what happened is in stark contradiction to the requirements of  the Waste Act of 2008 that recognises the critical role waste pickers play in the recycling economy and compels municipalities to integrate waste pickers into their municipal waste management systems, in a systematic and well defined manner.

Moreover, the Waste Picker Integration Guidelines clearly outline how municipalities should integrate them; the guidelines can be used to demonstrate the economic, social, and environmental benefits of waste picking. Clearly, eThekwini Municipality has not been able to do this yet and thus the response by force.

Following this incidence, the eThekwini Municipality convened a community meeting at Bufflesdraai on 19 July 2023 along with a Mayoral visit from Cllr Mxolisi Kaunda. They declared the landfill site closed with immediate effect even though there were outcries from the waste pickers because sadly this is their daily bread.

Regrettably, during the community meeting not one municipal official mentioned the Waste Picker Integration Guidelines and what they mean on the ground. Instead it was the waste pickers who were asking the mayor and the municipal officials about what  to do now that the site has been closed taking away their livelihoods. In this meeting, the community voices painted a different picture of lies, blame and lack of understanding from the municipality instead which left many in awe. In South Africa, waste picking is a livelihood strategy for over 90 000 people for them to feed their families. One of the saddest realities was hearing from former university students who had to drop out because of the inability to afford the tuition fees and have since resorted to waste picking for their daily bread.

From the community meeting, there were many unanswered questions from the waste pickers such as, who gave out the order to shoot and kill? What are the municipality’s steps to assist now that the site has been closed? And most importantly, how should one bury a loved one when there is no income? Such questions puzzled many people and left waste pickers unsure about the future of the landfill.

Recently this is one of many examples of the cases of unplanned landfill site closures in the past eight months across the various parts of South Africa. Examples include New  England Landfill (KwaZulu-Natal 2022), South Mangaung Landfill (Free State 2023), Boitsepi Landfill,(Free-State 2023), Garankuwa Landfill (Gauteng 2023), Howick landfill (KwaZulu- Natal 2023) and Buffelsdraai (KwaZulu-Natal 2023). The unplanned evictions of waste pickers in landfills leaves them uncertain about the future and it denies them the right to earn a living to support themselves and their families. The question looms, which landfill is next?



Asiphile Khanyile

+27 78 102 1339

Tsepang Molefe

+27 74 405 1257