In August 2017, waste picker leaders from Brazil and India traveled to South Africa for an international exchange hosted by the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) and groundWork. The international exchange provided a platform for waste pickers across three continents to work together by sharing their struggles and experiences in organizing their communities.
Waste pickers traveled to landfill sites (including Onderstepoort, Goudkoppies, Marie Louise, Mooi River and Sasolburg landfills) to learn about local working conditions and visited with SAWPA members to discuss some of the main challenges they face. They also participated in meetings between South African waste pickers, government officials and other experts.
In Magaliesburg, exchange participants joined a strategic planning meeting with local waste pickers, government, business, academics and other stakeholders to feed into the Phakisa Waste Minimization Plan (a government-led initiative that aims to minimize waste, unlock economic opportunities presented by waste and fast-track waste projects in various municipalities so that waste contributes meaningfully to the South African Economy).
Waste pickers also sat in on a strategic meeting organized by the Sasolburg District Municipality to discuss challenges related to recycling with cooperatives of waste pickers working at Fezile Dabi District Municipality, members of the business community and 100 cooperative representatives. In an effort to convince government and business to consider more people-centered solutions to South Africa’s employment and waste challenges, the international visitors highlighted how different levels of government in Brazil and India are supporting waste pickers, how working conditions have improved and discussed the need to promote empowering solutions to local waste challenges.
The exchange was an important movement-building step for South African waste pickers: it allowed local waste pickers to share their stories and build links with other national movements, learn from the successful experiences of their Brazilian and Indian comrades and point to practical ways other governments have supported waste pickers.