We want to move back to the dump site, say former landfill residents

About 100 people who used to live at the Makhanda dump were moved after it was upgraded

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Young men play cricket at the Makhanda landfill site last year, before people were stopped from living on the dump. Photo: Loyiso Dyongman.

  • About 100 people were living on the Makhanda dump site last year.
  • They were removed after the High Court ordered that the site comply with environmental legislation.
  • GroundUp spoke to several former dump site residents who want to go back to the landfill.
  • They say life was better and easier when they were living at the dump.

The municipal rubbish dump site on Cradock Road outside Makhanda provided a home and a living for a number of people. They scavenged for dumped expired food. But since the site was upgraded, they no longer have access. They say life was easier when they were living on the dump and they are struggling now to survive in the township.

In September 2015, the Makana Municipality was ordered by the Grahamstown High Court to bring the dump site into line with environmental legislation. This included refurbishing the perimeter fence, controlling access to the site, developing a waste-screening mechanism, and appointing an independent specialist to review environmental monitoring data

When GroundUp went to the site in 2020, about 100 people were living there. Among them were Ronnie Basi, Sanelisiwe Mhlekwa and Mandilakhe Rooi. But when the renovations started in 2021, the people who were living there were removed by the municipality from the site.

Basi, from Vukani location, had been living at the dump since 2014. “My life was better there because I never slept with an empty stomach. I left home because I was not working. I was living with my mother who was selling fruit in town. She had grandchildren and the money she was getting was not enough to cater for all of us,” Basi told GroundUp last week.

Sanelisiwe Mhlekwa said, “I was fine when I was living there at the dump site … Food was for free there and we never got sick because of the expired food. At least the municipality should make a way and perhaps give us a space next to the dump site.”

Mandilakhe Rooi, from Xolani location, said he would return immediately if the municipality allowed them back. He is now living from selling scrap metal.

“We have been kicked out of the dump site and my life has totally changed for the worse here in the location. We are a family of eight and life is not good,” said Rooi.

Nompumelelo Ntukwana, from Fingo Village, said she moved to the dump in 2017 when she was just 17 years old. “That was our home. We were used to that life. Why is the municipality doing this to us? We now have to adapt to this life of living at home with families. We were like one family there too,” said Ntukwana.

Abri Albertyn, from Separation at Source, said no-one was living at the dump any more. But some people did scavenge for food and look for recyclable materials when trucks came to the dump site.

Municipality Media and Communications Officer Anele Mjekula did not answer our questions.

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Dear Editor

Mr. Albertyn has been forced off the landfill site. Mr. Albertyn was providing a vital service to the community and had organised for the waste pickers to have meals at the site provided by some of the local private schools (the meals were on par with what the private boarders are getting). Are the waste pickers still being provided with their meals? What are the conditions now that Mr. Albertyn has left?

This story does not tell the full picture. Before the site was secured, there were stabbings, continuous fires, etc at the dump. Mr. Albertyn cleaned up the site and allowed a safe space for waste pickers to do their important work in a much better environment than before. He also made sure that meals were provided on-site and was planning to improve the lives of the pickers before he was forced off the site.

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