On June 20th, at least 70 reclaimers (waste pickers) were violently attacked in a raid by the Red Ants, a private security company specialising in evictions. The attack took place next to the Genesis Landfill located near the center of Johannesburg, South Africa. Reclaimers’ homes were raided and workers were violently attacked. Witnesses reported that reclaimers’ valuables (including phones and money) were stolen, passports were destroyed and workers were fired upon with rubber bullets by the South African private security company. At least 15 people were admitted to the South Rand Hospital for injuries, including 4 people who were later transferred to the Johannesburg General Hospital with serious injuries.
The victims of this attack have worked and lived near the Genesis landfill for 17 years, with at least 20 families living in a small temporary settlement behind the landfill, near the railway. Reclaimers had traditionally been permitted to work during the landfill’s hours of operation but workers were prohibited entry once Averda (a multinational based in Dubai) assumed ownership and operation of the landfill in September 2016. To make matters more difficult, Averda served an interdict earlier this month to evict reclaimers from the landfill. With the help of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), the interdict has been postponed and the case is to be heard on July 16th. The June 20th attack on reclaimers by the Red Ants defied the court decision to postpone the interdict, and, by invading reclaimers’ homes (on land not owned by Averda), the Red Ants went beyond the jurisdiction of the eviction order.
Workers admitted to hospital have since been released and are now recovering from their injuries. With the help of WIEGO and SERI, reclaimers filed two cases of assault and robbery. Several others are filling out the relevant paperwork so they can file cases of unlawful arrest, assault and theft. SERI will also support reclaimers in challenging the July 16th interdict. In the meantime, reclaimers are trying to re-negotiate access to the landfill with Averda so that they can continue to work and support their families through recycling.