Waste pickers want answers

2015-03-18 00:00

WHAT’s happened to the R21 million that should have been used to build a facility to reclaim useful waste from the ­Pietermaritzburg city dump?

That’s the question that local ­environmental watchdog organisation groundWork wants answered.

In a 2013 report — “The story of ­recycling within uMgungundlovu”, published on the Environmental Affairs ­Department website — it was envisaged that construction on the Pietermaritzburg Materials Recovery Facility would begin in November 2013 and end in June 2014.

The money for the project was obtained by uMgungundlovu three years ago, but work is yet to start on the facility.

“Many waste pickers have been injured or killed at the dump. This plant would have provided them with the opportunity to work off the dump site,” said Megan ­Lewis of groundWork, the organisation ­assisting waste pickers at the dump.

“This would have benefited the co-operative of waste pickers and created jobs for them,” she said.

There are around 80 waste pickers who operate at the city dump. Construction of the facility would have created 120 more jobs.

The delays, said Lewis, have led to questions about where the money has gone. “There have been no straight answers. The municipalities [uMgungundlovu and Msunduzi] are blaming each other. We have tried to contact them to get an explanation, but nothing has come of it. They have not given us any explanations.”

Yesterday, the fed-up Pietermaritzburg waste pickers staged a sit-in for five hours at the uMgungundlovu District Municipality. They demanded to know what had happened to the R21 million the Department of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) had given to uMgungundlovu to build a Materials Recovery Centre three years ago.

They say the centre would have helped them survive by looking through the rubbish and salvaging waste to recycle or sell. It would have had a conveyer belt that would allow them to salvage items safely, away from the dangers of the dump.

Already, there has been at least one accidental death at the dump and one person is in hospital after being injured there last week, said Nonhlanhla Mhlophe, one of the pickers. She said a waste picker slipped and fell off a trailer, which then ran over him, breaking his leg.

In 2012, teenager Nqobile Maphumulo was working at the dump site with her mother, trying to make money for school shoes, when she slipped, fell under a moving dump truck and was killed.

Mhlophe said they were dejected by the delays in building the centre as it could drastically improve their working conditions.

She said after waiting for three years, they were now demanding answers.

“Life there [at the dump] is not nice. We are run over by cars, when it rains we suffer, and we are burnt by the sun. As we speak, someone else is in hospital after being injured at the dump.

“This could all be avoided because if they build this structure, we would be working indoors.”

She said while the centre has not been built, they need to know what had happened to the money. “Cogta said they have already given the money to uMgungundlovu,” she said.

Mhlophe said officials from Cogta, Msunduzi and uMgungundlovu had yesterday all refused to meet with them. “The official at Msunduzi was in a meeting.

“Cogta said they had appointed someone to deal with the matter and he was unavailable.

“The official at uMgungundlovu tried to hide and say he was not in the office.”

She said they would return to the offices tomorrow.

uMgungundlovu municipal manager Sbu Khuzwayo directed all queries to Cogta, saying the department was handling the matter.

Attempts to get comment from Cogta and Msunduzi were unsuccessful yesterday.

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