GLOBAL ALLIANCE OF WASTE PICKERS
GLOBAL ALLIANCE OF
WASTE PICKERS
The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers is a networking process supported by WIEGO, among thousands of waste picker organizations with groups in more than 28 countries covering mainly Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Supported by Logo WIEGO

South Africa’s First National Waste Picker meeting

Gauteng?, July 2-3, 2009


Abstract

On July 2 and 3, 2009 100 waste pickers from across the country gathered for South Africa’s First National Waste Picker Meeting. The waste pickers came from 26 landfills in seven of South Africa’s nine provinces. Speaking at a plenary session, waste picker Simon Mbata emphasised that the meeting was, “making history” as it was, “the fist time we see waste pickers in South Africa together deciding our future.”


On July 2 and 3, 2009 100 waste pickers from across the country gathered for South Africa’s First National Waste Picker Meeting. The waste pickers came from 26 landfills in seven of South Africa’s nine provinces. Speaking at a plenary session, waste picker Simon Mbata emphasised that the meeting was, “making history” as it was, “the fist time we see waste pickers in South Africa together deciding our future.”

The meeting was organised by the environmental justice NGO groundWork. groundWork has a long history of working with communities affected by hazardous and toxic waste. In 2008 it began to work with waste pickers after realising that they are also negatively affected by poor waste management practices. In addition, groundWork was concerned that the new waste management legislation being drafted did not recognise the role of waste pickers in municipal waste management and threatened to undermine their livelihood, as did trends toward incineration of municipal waste. Musa Chamane, the groundWork waste campaigner, spent eight months traveling to dumps in all of South Africa’s provinces to make links with waste pickers. In preparation for the national meeting, he facilitated provincial workshops that introduced the waste pickers to groundWork, reported on groundWork’s research on waste pickers and identified key issues faced by waste pickers. Representatives from all of the dumps visited by groundWork were then invited to the National Meeting, held in Midrand, Gauteng.

groundWork is keen to support the organising of waste pickers, but is clear that this initiative must be driven by waste pickers themselves. groundWork sees its role as facilitating opportunities for waste pickers to meet and engage, and providing information and support to help waste pickers organise themselves. According to groundWork, the main objective of the national meeting was to provide the opportunity for waste pickers from throughout South Africa to meet and talk with each other in order promote collective organising for securing their livelihoods.

The National Meeting was an important first step that has altered the landscape in South Africa. Nevertheless, much work remains to be done to make future processes even more inclusive. Despite the fact that women were active participants in the meeting and gave the majority of reports from breakaway groups, only one of the working group members elected at the conference was a woman. Two provinces were not present and only a small number of waste pickers working in the streets attended the meeting. Although many foreign migrants work as waste pickers in cities across the country, none were present at the workshop. Some participants felt that excluding foreign nationals from dumps would be a way to address overcrowding. As the working group moves forward there will be a need to explore how to overcome exclusions and divisions and to ensure that all waste pickers can participate and have a voice in the emerging national processes.
Read more about South Africa’s First National Waste Picker meeting.