South African Waste Pickers: ‘MATOTI’


Portia Mosia* discusses the important work that waste pickers do and the struggle to have their work recognised and paid.

During the COP17 Conference I had an opportunity to attend a session where I got to understand the role and importance of waste pickers. The session was organised by Groundwork which is an environmental justice organisation.

There are different types of waste pickers. There are waste pickers who work for themselves, as a survival strategy and recycle the waste they collect. Then there are waste pickers who are employed by the local municipalities and they earn a salary every month.

Important work

These workers who are self employed are called waste pickers all over the world because they collect waste. They collect waste from rubbish bins, from the streets, gate to gate and they clean the dumping sites. We see them everyday in our communities where they are known as ‘MATOTI’.

The self-employed waste pickers do an important job. They collect, sort and process those things that can be recycled, including organic waste. This reduces the amount of waste that is sent to landfills and this also saves valuable natural resources. One part of their struggle is for those who are self- employed as waste pickers to be paid for their work. The reason for this is simple: they clean, collect, recycle and make a living at the some time. These workers want the government to recognise them and their work.

The waste pickers are also affected by issues related to climate change. The big industries especially affect the environment with their emissions. In South Africa there are many shopping centres and malls where it is not easy to collect the rubbish.

Historic meeting

On the 2-3 July 2009, about one hundred (100) waste pickers from across the country gathered for their first national waste pickers meeting in South Africa. The waste pickers came from 26 landfills, from seven of the country’s nine provinces. This was a historic event, the fist time that waste pickers in South Africa came together to decide their future. They discussed not only the issue of money but issues that affect them and their work. Waste-pickers are beginning to organise themselves.

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