The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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South Africa – 5 October 2012

For immediate release 
Hlanganani MaAfrika Waste Picker Cooperative
South African Waste Pickers Association
groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa

Waste picker (50) drowns in Msunduzi River 

After heavy rains the previous night, waste picker Bongekile Hilda Ntshangase (50) drowned in the Msunduzi River on her way back to the New England Road landfill site after her and her husband had been to sell recyclable waste at the Central Waste depot on 23 September. Tomorrow, the Hlanganani MaAfrika Waste Picker Cooperative [1], members of the South African Waste Picker Association (SAWPA) [2], groundWork [3] and other waste pickers from the area, will attend her funeral.

Bongekile and her husband lived in the township of Swapo and worked as waste pickers picking recyclables off the landfill site, for over 15 years, to make a living. The difficult situation of poverty they – along with many other waste pickers – were forced to live in, meant they often had to cross the river either going to the depot from the landfill or vice versa if Central Waste trucks were not available to transport them in order to generate some income.

Despite having created a livelihood for herself, and having helped keep the environment clean through recycling and making more space on the landfill, Bongekile’s and her husband did not have enough money for her funeral and had to turn to the waste picking community to raise funds for her burial.

The ideal situation for waste pickers like Bongekile is to have waste recycling companies come to a formal Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) [4] on the New England Road landfill site where they could sell their recyclables, rather than them having to cart them across town. If the proposed MRF was in operation, their income would be improved and the life of Bongekile and that of Nqobile Maphumulo [5] would not have been lost.

Speaking on behalf of SAWPA on the issue of cooperatives and protecting waste pickers from private business interests, Chairperson Simon Mbata, urged waste pickers to either join a cooperative or form their own in their area:

“SAWPA is working at the local level to create a system where its cooperatives bypass middlemen business and sell directly to the bigger companies. In this way they would be protected from a cut in the money they take home in the end. It is wrong that Bongekile did not have enough money to be buried even though she had worked hard as a waste picker for so long”.

Bongekile was well-known in the waste picking community in Pietermaritzburg. Nonhlanhla Mhlope, committee member of both SAWPA and the cooperative in Pietermaritzburg, expressed the same sentiments:

“It is high time for us now as waste pickers to unite and fight against the exploitation by middlemen who are interested in making money from our labour but not looking after us”.

groundWork and SAWPA are saddened by Bongekile’s death and sends her family sincerest condolences.


[1] The Hlanganani MaAfrika Waste Picker Cooperative is a registered (2012) cooperative based in Pietermaritzburg at the New England Road landfill site. They formed in 2010 and have 74 members who are waste pickers that collect recyclable materials from the landfill site. They are a member of SAWPA.

[2] The South African Waste Pickers Association is an organised movement of people working on waste dumps and in streets collecting waste and earning an income from selling this waste material for recycling.

[3] groundWork is an environmental justice organization working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issue focusing on Air Quality, Climate Justice and Energy, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International.

[4] A materials recovery facility or MRF is a specialised plant that reduces municipal solid waste going to landfills by receiving recyclable materials and preparing them for end-user manufacturers.

[5] “Crushed by a dump truck”, Gabisile Ngcobo, The Witness, 02 August 2012


Simon Mbata, SAWPA Chairperson, at 073 003 8170 or

Nonhlanhla Mhlope, committee member of SAWPA and Hlanganani MaAfrika Waste Picker Cooperative at 072 077 5644

For media related queries, please contact:

Megan Lewis, groundWork Media Campaign, at 033 342 5562 / 083 450 5541 or