Waste pickers in South Africa have made major strides towards improved working conditions on the ground. However, there is still much that needs to be done for them to become the custodians of the wealth they create.
This was the message attendees took home from the 4th Biennial General Meeting of the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA). The meeting, which was held in Johannesburg at the end of August, was convened for the waste pickers to share their successes and discuss the challenges they still face with collaboration and recognition.
In a statement released after the meeting, SAWPA acknowledged that waste pickers are recognised by government as legitimate workers in society and that they have launched various waste picker and recycling initiatives country wide to respond to calls for recognise, however, there is still a need for government to commit to listening and working with waste pickers.
Improved working conditions recognition and inclusion are key
Among some of the demands waste pickers called on the government to ensure that they are involved in waste management related projects as they are being planned and developed, and not only when implementation takes place.
The waste pickers also asked to be recognised at the municipal level and for the municipal waste management officers to meet with them at least once every quarter so that they understand their needs.
Regarding improved working conditions SAWPA requested that government update Landfill licences to allow for the safe organised salvaging of waste as stipulated in the Waste Act 2008, section 51.1.(i).
“We do not want to remain working on the landfills or streets forever. We believe that we should be given an opportunity to play a central role in terms of waste recycling in the country,” SAWPA said the statement.
“Throughout South Africa, Waste Pickers are working towards increasing the number of cooperatives to secure their livelihoods and to ensure that they, and not private individuals and businesses hold the wealth that we create through our work.”