Waste pickers march to be recognised

Protesters want to be a formal part of Johannesburg’s recycling programme

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Photo of waste pickers\' protest
About 200 waste pickers marched from Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown to the Pikitup and the City of Johannesburg offices in Braamfontein on Thursday morning. Photo: Zoë Postman

About 200 waste pickers marched from Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown to Pikitup and the City of Johannesburg offices in Braamfontein on Thursday morning. The march was organised by African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), a group formed in 2017 to represent Johannesburg’s street and landfill waste pickers.

The waste pickers demanded that the City stop any plans to hire private companies to recycle, stop closure of landfills, open recycling hubs, provide protective equipment and compensate waste pickers who help the City with the registration of waste pickers.

They also demanded that the City implement the Department of Environmental Affairs guidelines and the City’s framework policy for integration of waste pickers.

The protesters handed a memorandum of demands to the acting Managing Director of Pikitup, Segala Malahlela. He promised to take time to understand their demands and respond with solutions.

But one of the waste pickers, Steven Leeu, told GroundUp that they had already created policies and documents that would assist with integration of waste pickers. “But the problem is that [Pikitup] keeps bringing new management who don’t know anything and then we have to start from scratch and teach them about our demands,” he said.

When the protesters arrived at the City’s offices, the group expected Mayco Member for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Nico de Jager, to receive the memorandum but he had other commitments. One of his representatives, Stephen Moore, received and signed the memorandum on his behalf.

Addressing the crowd outside the City’s offices, Leeu, said: “We are disappointed to hear that De Jager is not here to meet with us today because every time we try to meet with him, he has an excuse yet he goes on public platforms and says he is trying to engage with waste pickers.”

Chairperson of ARO, Eva Mokoena, said the march followed two years of fruitless engagement with Pikitup and the City.

She reiterated that waste pickers, the City and Pikitup had drafted a framework policy that would assist with integration of waste pickers into the City’s waste management system in 2017. She said the document was supposed to be signed in 2018 but that never happened.

“We marched here today to remind the City and Pikitup that they promised to implement those demands in the framework document but they have failed to do so until now,” Mokoena told GroundUp.

Both Moore and Malahlela promised to respond to the demands within two weeks.

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