Ev­ery morn­ing, while most of us are still fast asleep, a waste econ­omy awak­ens on the streets of the City of Gold. spoke to Joburg’s dust­bin scrap­ers, rub­bish col­lec­tors, re­cy­clers and re­triev­ers about their hopes and dreams

CityPress - - Voices -

They form a neon-yel­low line in a big ware­house filled with rub­bish. Pa­tiently, they stand in a queue, each wait­ing to have their bag weighed. Here and there, some­one at­tempts to strike up a chat, but most just stare into space, hands clasped to­gether, while the ca­coph­ony re­ver­ber­ates around them. Glass breaks, a con­veyer rum­bles and card­board boxes are moved up the in­cline with a groan. The shrill beep-beep­beep of a re­vers­ing truck and the thump of masses of news­pa­pers be­ing thrown on to a pile echoes through the dark ware­house. In places, streaks of sun­light find their way through the cor­ru­gated iron roof.

“Je­sus loves you too,” shout the thick black let­ters on the back of one of the neon jack­ets.

Din­gani Dlamini, in his black New York Yan­kees cap, black T-shirt, and short beard and mous­tache, says he knows this game by now.

“I didn’t have a job. I had to choose: re­cy­cle or rob peo­ple,” he says, keep­ing a close watch on what I write, his black shoes dirty and worn out. “I chose re­cy­cling.” He says he is 30, but he looks older. He also says he has a 21-year-old daugh­ter. Some of the other peo­ple here are also un­sure of their age. The crudely as­sem­bled cart he had bought for R100 leans against the pave­ment. His big rub­bish bag is over­turned, empty, be­cause he has just de­liv­ered his col­lec­tion of card­board boxes to the re­cy­cling cen­tre in New­town in the heart of Jo­han­nes­burg.

He is R62 richer for a load of be­tween 200kg and 300kg of car­ton that he had col­lected dur­ing the week and had hauled tens of kilo­me­tres.

“I’m from far away,” he says, and slowly spells the name of his ru­ral birth­place in North West: “Knotonot­wana.”

Now he lives here, in Jo­han­nes­burg’s city cen­tre, close to the re­cy­cling cen­tre. “Just around the cor­ner here,” he mo­tions down the street.

Three years ago, Din­gani de­cided to buy a cart, take a bag and scour the streets of Jo­han­nes­burg for plas­tic, glass, car­ton and any other re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als that could make him some money.

“Eish. I didn’t have work. I used to be a chef,” he says and laughs self-con­sciously.

He hangs his head and uses his arm to wipe the sweat from his face, laughs un­com­fort­ably – his teeth as white as the let­ters NY on his cap.

“But I don’t want to talk about that. Rather ask me other ques­tions. Not about where I worked.”

Yes, he is a qual­i­fied chef with a ma­tric cer­tifi­cate and var­i­ous cour­ses to his name, he says – “ev­ery­thing to do with ho­tels and restau­rants”.

Trucks in the street and the clang­ing glass bot­tles in the re­cy­cling cen­tre make a din.

Din­gani is desti­tute and sleeps in the vicin­ity of the Nel­son Man­dela Bridge in Braam­fontein.

He tries to de­liver a bag of re­cy­clable ma­te­rial to the cen­tre four times a month, at least once a week.

Some bags he leaves in cer­tain places and col­lects when he has filled them – like out­side a pop­u­lar bar in Braam­fontein, where, hope­fully, peo­ple’s empty bot­tles will end up in his bag.

“I also don’t sell it [his ma­te­ri­als] ev­ery day be­cause I have to leave the bags un­til they are full. I look for things in Hill­brow, New­town, May­fair, Auck­land Park and Park­town.” Asked how far he walks, a big smile comes over his face. “Oh-oh-oh!” he says, shak­ing his head and shrug­ging his shoul­ders.

“I prob­a­bly walk hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres be­cause it is up and down, up and down. Back and forth, back and forth.”

If he is lucky, he finds a small trea­sure hid­den in other peo­ple’s rub­bish – such as the lap­top dis­cov­ered the other day. “I sold it for R1 200. It was in work­ing con­di­tion, but the screen had a small crack in the cor­ner.”

For the guys with the trol­leys, it is mostly ev­ery man for him­self. “It is not very com­pet­i­tive and we help each other, like when some­one’s trol­ley gets stuck. You can’t say this is your ter­ri­tory. If some­one is busy at a dust­bin, you move on to the next one.”

In the early morn­ings, they ven­ture into Jo­han­nes­burg’s quiet streets in groups, with caps, bal­a­clavas and dirty gloves.

Un­der the street­lights, the roads be­come theirs for a few hours. Then they walk the up­hill roads and ride their carts down­hill – steer­ing their trol­leys with their legs like surfers, hold­ing on to the han­dles made from iron­ing board legs.

“You get tired and don’t get a lot of rest. But you must not sit down. You have to keep on mov­ing.”

When one of Din­gani’s six bags is full, he drags his trol­ley through the im­pa­tient ur­ban traf­fic, back to the re­cy­cling cen­tre. He wears a neon-yel­low jacket to be vis­i­ble to the dump trucks. Then he goes to the back of the queue for his haul to be weighed. Sman­gele Ndlovu is the woman who does this ev­ery day, her short Rasta locks cov­ered by a head­band. She has a manic laugh.

A damp de­cay clings to ev­ery­thing, fer­ment­ing the air like sour milk. It is as if you can see the dirt in the air, taste it in your mouth. But the neon line stands and waits pa­tiently.

Af­ter queu­ing, Din­gani weaves his way through the noisy trucks, throws his plas­tic bot­tles on the plate for plas­tic, his pa­per on the pa­per pile and his car­ton on the car­ton pile.

He fetches the shred of pa­per declar­ing how much money he should re­ceive. Then he goes to an­other queue to get a note or two from a black-painted win­dow.

“You can make about R1 500 or even R2 000 a week, de­pend­ing on what you have,” says Din­gani.

White pa­per, card­board boxes, white plas­tic milk bot­tles and PPC (thick plas­tic) are very valu­able. White pa­per can earn you about R2.10 a kilo­gram, car­ton about 56c a kilo­gram and green glass bot­tles about R1 a kilo­gram (there are con­sid­er­able price dif­fer­ences from place to place and they can change daily).

Din­gani uses his money for food, some­times on clothes, but most of it goes home to North West, to his “wife and child”.

“It’s my dream to have my own busi­ness. I would have liked to open my own restau­rant. I want to start sav­ing this year. Maybe I can start here with a small shop. Maybe it be­comes big­ger, slowly but surely,” Din­gani dreams be­fore say­ing good­bye and push­ing his trol­ley down the street.

Vusi Memela (28) emerges from the re­cy­cling cen­tre. He frowns be­hind the thick-frame glasses he fished out of a dust­bin some­where, as he starts telling his story on the pave­ment across the street.

He has been an in­for­mal re­cy­cler for eight years. Be­fore col­lect­ing re­cy­clables, he worked as a se­cu­rity guard for two years. “But eish, I just couldn’t take it any more. It was long


hours and the pay was too lit­tle,” he says, shak­ing his head.

He is rest­less, his eyes dart­ing from left to right. His white T-shirt has been worn to pieces.

“This pay is bet­ter. You can make be­tween R200 and R300 a day. With se­cu­rity, it was R105 a day. And it was long hours. Six to six.”

Still, there are days he pock­ets only R60. “There are too many of us now and it gets dif­fi­cult if you have a heavy load and you come from far away, like from Rose­bank.”

He greets some­one across the street with a nod. The guy yells some­thing over the noise, but it is in­audi­ble. They may not all be friends, but they know of each other, he says.

The heavy traf­fic does not con­cern Vusi. “I think peo­ple un­der­stand. Some­times they do. They wait for you and when there’s a chance to go past, they go past you.” He left school when he was in Grade 11, he says. He turns away and shakes his head be­fore con­tin­u­ing. “The fi­nances at my house were not very good. There were five of us, so my par­ents couldn’t af­ford for me to fin­ish school. I would have liked to fin­ish school.”

He would also like to get a learner’s li­cence so that he can learn to drive. “All those things cost a lot of money. But it is one of the things I would like to do.

“I would also re­ally like to go back to school, but ... I don’t know if I will be able to.”



TAK­ING THE LOAD OFF city cen­tre Le­siba Lethaba weighs his card­board boxes at the re­cy­cling cen­tre in New­town in Joburg’s

BACK TO WORK Din­gani Dlamini walks down the street near the re­cy­cling cen­tre in New­town af­ter sell­ing a big heap of car­ton boxes SORT­ING THE SPOILS Vusi Memela emp­ties his black bag full of white pa­per at the re­cy­cling cen­tre in New­town

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