'To people dustbins smell bad. To me they smell of money.'

By Drum Digital
20 February 2017

Thembisile Kubheka lives by collecting waste material for recycling from the suburban dustbins of Springs. She says dustbins don't smell bad, the smell like money.

The 49-year-old single mother of three children wakes up early in the morning to catch a taxi at 06:00 from her two-roomed house in Geluksdal, Brakpan, to get to Geduld.

By 07:00 she is rummaging through dustbins, collecting plastic containers, cardboard boxes and empty cans, GroundUp reported.

"In the location [where she lives] there is no good stuff," she says. "People do not buy as much as people living in town."

And, says Kubheka: "People in our area laugh at you when you pick up things from the dustbins. They think you are suffering. Or that you are mad. Not that I care much; as long as I am able to put food on the table."

"To people dustbins smell bad. To me they smell of money. It's better to have little than nothing at all," she says.

R60 on a good day

Kubheka has been collecting waste material for recycling for 10 years now. She tries to get to town as early as possible, before the other waste pickers and before the municipal garbage collectors. She says lately there have been fights over waste materials at the dump site in Brakpan, so she no longer goes there.

Kubheka suffers from high blood pressure and must lie down sometimes. At the time of the interview, she said she had sores in her mouth and a throat infection.

"Who knows? Maybe I got infected from one of the dustbins. But I can't stop now. Where else can I get money? I just have to be careful next time and wear a protective mask to avoid getting infected. But I also need to have money to buy one," she says.

She works with her bare hands and without any protective clothing.

Some residents of Geduld keep empty containers for her until she comes around. Some give her food, money and second-hand clothes for her children.

At the recycling company she gets R3.20 per kg for plastic containers and empty cans, R1.20 per kg for plastic, and R2 per kg for cardboard boxes.

She makes around R40 a day, and on a good day, R60. Her daily taxi fare is R26.

"l need every cent," she says.

Source: GroundUp/ News24

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