Wealth gap: ‘God loves rich people’

2015-02-22 15:00

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Twenty-seven-year-old Thato Tseletso* looks like an overworked drayhorse well into its twilight years.

But he is moving around at warp speed, dashing from one dustbin to the next, looking for any recyclable plastic. He has a massive bale to fill.

The City of Johannesburg’s refuse truck will pull up at any moment and, if he slows down, he won’t fill the two-metre-high bale, which he pulls with a small trolley. Not only will failure to fill the bale be an inefficient use of his time, it also means he won’t be able to get the roughly R1?000 he makes a week.

Tseletso, who lives in Kya Sands, Johannesburg, crisscrosses Randburg’s suburbs every weekday collecting recyclable plastic, which he sells for about R200 a bale on Saturdays.

Today he is in Blairgowrie. He is wearing a balaclava, which I imagine is meant to protect him from the stench of the dustbins.

It does play that role, but the main reason he wears it is to protect his identity.

“You see, this is not a job. So I can’t risk people who know me seeing me do this. Look at all these taxis driving by here; I’m sure there are a lot of people who know me in some of the taxis.

“I really don’t want them to know this is what I do for a living. That’s why I hide my face; it’s an embarrassing job. There are very few people who know what I do for a living. People think I wake up and go to work like they do,” he explains.

Tseletso has spent the night sleeping at a nearby park to be close to Blairgowrie, so he can wake up at 4am to start working. He is not afraid of sleeping in the park, adding that many other guys in the business also sleep there.

As we chat, the refuse truck shows up and empties the dustbins in quick succession.

Fortunately Tseletso’s bale is bursting. It’s now time to pull his cart and trek back to Kya Sands, about 20km from Blairgowrie.

Trucks, buses, taxis and cars on Malibongwe Drive make the trip treacherous. It takes him about five hours to cover the distance from Blairgowrie to Kya Sands. In summer, he is exposed to the scorching sun and torrential downpours; in winter he has to contend with finger-numbing cold.

“All day and every day I risk being killed on Malibongwe Drive. But I do not have a choice. I have a wife and toddler who depend on me back home, in Welkom. I’ve also told my wife what I do so that she doesn’t demand a lot of money – and we end up fighting,” he explains.

After paying the monthly rental of R300 for his shack, Tseletso sends money to his wife, Malathi, and daughter, Thamahadi.

For his life to change for the better, Tseletso needs a lot. “I need a house and a job. I need clothes, furniture and electrical appliances. For now, I am poor and I’m struggling. What I’m doing is to make sure my wife and child have food and money to pay rent.”

Money, he says, is the only thing standing between him and a good life. “I would love to be rich. God loves rich people. They live longer lives. I live in hope that one day things will be fine.”

*Not his or his family’s real names

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