14 Dec 2008 Bongani Hans
“We may be poor, but we are not criminals. We need the right to pick up [waste] from the dump [Msunduzi landfill site] without being beaten up by your security guards.”
This was the plea from “fed up” waste pickers, who marched to the city hall on Friday to hand over a memorandum to the Msunduzi Municipality. About 100 protesters said they are angry about the everyday physical abuse they allegedly suffer at the hands of the municipality’s security guards stationed at the landfill site.
“I have been beaten up many times, and my elder brother was shot in the stomach, just for picking up from the dump,” said David Dlamini.
The marchers, mostly residents of Ash Road informal settlement, are poor and unemployed.
Many wore black T-shirts supplied to them by Groundwork, an environmental lobby group that has volunteered to fight for their rights. They marched from Masukwane (East) Street to the city hall carrying placards with messages of their plight.
Marching with them were Groundwork staff and leaders of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement, which fights for the rights of shack dwellers.
They intended to hand their memorandum over to Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo, who declined it, saying their complaint falls under the administration. Municipal manager Rob Haswell was also too busy to accept it, so community development process manager Mandla Zuma accepted it.
Besides demanding protection from abusive security guards, they also want to be included in any decisions that affect their operation at the site.
“The security [guards] hired by the Municipality have, in the past, shot people and physically abused people who have worked on the landfill site.
“The National Environmental Management Waste Bill allows for ‘salvaging’ of waste off landfill sites. Developments at the site, such as the gas extraction project and recycling proposals have excluded the waste pickers and not sought their opinions on such developments,” said the memorandum.
Ntombi Luthili said she supports her large family with the waste she picks from the site.
“I have a family of 17 members and there is no man to help support it. I started picking up waste before 1990, and with the money I made out of selling it, I’m able to send my children to school and feed them.
“If they prevent us from going to the site what kind of Christmas do they want us to celebrate without money? How are we going to send our children back to school next year? They are rich and they can afford (what they need), so they should allow us to make a living,” said Luthuli.
However, Zuma said there are laws that prevent the municipality from allowing people free movement inside the dump.
“We are going to look at the matter. It is not about going to sleep and waking up with a decision, but there is a process to be followed,” said Zuma.