18 April 2023
It is 10am on a Thursday morning and Dorah Ramugoni is pulling a trolley full of cardboard boxes and plastic, heading to a skip bin in President Street behind the Spar shop, in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo.
“Can you please help me bundle up these pieces of cardboard so that it is easier for me to pull the trolley,” Ramugoni, 34, asks GroundUp.
She is one of many people in Louis Trichardt earning a living from selling material for recycling. She takes it to the skip behind the Spar where it is collected daily by LTT Algemene Handelaars and taken to a recycling centre in Makhado Industrial Site. GroundUp followed her on her route.
Ramugoni says that she could not find work in Louis Trichardt or in Nzhelele, her home, 50km away.“It is very difficult to get employed these days especially in rural areas,” she says.
Makhado Municipality’s population according to the 2011 population census was 516,031 with an unemployment rate of nearly 26%. Since then the population has dropped to 416,728, according to the municipal Integrated Development Plan. Much of the work is in the agricultural sector.
Though there is some work through the municipal Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), says Ramugoni, the contracts are short and the numbers are limited.
Ward councillor Khuliso Mukheli said 15 people in Nzhelele were working under EPWP on road maintenance. The places were rotated, he said.
Rather than wait for her turn on the EPWP, Ramugoni started recycling in 2021, to find an income for herself and her two children, 10 and 17.
“A friend of mine advised me to join her, collecting cardboard boxes and plastic. For a month I could not stand the smell from the bins where I collected the material. At times I spent the whole day without eating. But as time went on I got used to the smell. I also realised this was my only way of earning a living,” she said.
From Monday to Friday, Ramugoni travels the 100km to and from Nzhelele by bus. The monthly bus fare is R500. She starts work around 6am and leaves to go home at 5pm.
She collects plastic from the Game store and cardboard from the Spar. She has made arrangements with both retailers so that they keep the materials for her.
Behind the Spar, she carefully separates plastic from cardboard. “Plastic fetches more money than cardboard,” she says, packing cardboard boxes into a wire bin for collection.
Asked about the challenges she faces, Ramugoni said more people are turning to recycling jobs as they find it hard to secure employment. “Today I am a bit late. My competitors have already collected some empty cardboard boxes from the skip bins,” she said.
She considers herself lucky to be making a living from recycling. In a month she makes R4,000 on average. “The money is fairly good for me and my family. I make more when my children accompany me during school holidays. But I really do not want them to follow in my footsteps. All I want is to see them enjoy a better life.”