in the news

SAWPA Statement: Collapse of landfill and death of waste picker

15 March 2023, “It is high time that municipalities take the work of the waste pickers seriously, by creating an enabling environment through integration of waste pickers into waste management systems”. SAWPA chairperson Lefa Mononga

Ennerdale landfill site which is located in Lawley, south of Johannesburg under the guardian ship of the City of Johannesburg was rocked by an unusual accident. At least one body of the female was discovered in a pile of waste while others are still missing. This follows an accident where the waste slid on top of waste pickers that were working at the landfill on Thursday 2nd March 2023. It has now been confirmed that the deceased was a waste picker. A number of waste pickers were working at the site collecting recyclable materials when the landfill collapsed.

This unfortunate incident adds to a number of other challenges faced by waste pickers in different landfills around the country. The Waste Act 2008 of South Africa promotes waste pickers integration into municipalities. Under the act municipalities are expected to make sure that waste pickers do not access the city dumps through back doors, and that waste pickers are properly integrated into waste management systems. The Act legitimise the existence of waste pickers and gives them the right to salvage waste in an orderly manner agreed upon between both parties. A number of municipalities have ignored the call as a result waste pickers are not protected when they do their work in various dumping sites in South Africa.

The South African Waste Pickers Association assisted by environmental justice organisation, groundWork has for years been advancing the waste picker struggle. The national government has now recognised waste pickers through National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) as well as Waste Pickers Integration Guidelines (WISA). Municipalities have an obligation to register all waste pickers working in their area of jurisdiction. After registration they have to develop the plans as to how do they work with waste pickers so that they can create an enabling environment for their livelihoods to thrive. Waste Pickers are earning an honest living because they are not stealing or breaking the law.  They need to be assisted and protected for the good work that they are doing which is providing a service to the citizens and they are also helping in mitigating impacts of climate change.

Waste pickers are environmental champions, as they keep our environment clean making sure that the rivers as well as drains are not blocked by taking waste back to the system. They are not recognised as workers but the formal recycling industry would not exists without the waste pickers. The recycling industry is worth more than R18 Billion but a very small amount goes to waste pickers. South Africa has introduced Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes (EPR) for all the packaging waste materials to be recycled making sure that waste materials are not designed for landfill.

South African Waste Pickers Association would like to send condolences to the families of the deceased and we hope those that are still buried if any will soon be discovered. This is a lesson for all the municipalities that we need to collaborate with waste pickers to make sure that we prevent accidents.

South African Waste Pickers Association.

Displaced waste pickers in Pietermaritzburg embark on protest action

01 December 2022, Waste pickers operating in the New England Road landfill site in Pietermaritzburg are today protesting against been denied access to their work space, the landfill site. The waste pickers have not been able to access the landfill in the past 3 months. Waste pickers make a living through picking and sorting recyclable materials and the Pietermaritzburg landfill is their source of livelihood.

On the morning of the 26th August, more than 10 private security, police cars stormed the site and a helicopter hovered above the frightened and confused waste pickers, including the so called “illegitimate waste pickers” who have since settled at the landfill. Waste pickers have been recycling at the site for more than 30 years now.

The city has had its fair share of administrative challenges including a constant burning landfill site which has led to litigation by South African Human Rights Commission against the uMsunduzi Local Municipality. The litigation critiqued the operations at the landfill and contravening of the licence conditions which resulted to a number of waste pickers who have lost their lives and some are paralysed due to uncontrolled heavy machinery.

The council had been previously advised by the likes of groundWork, and the uMgungundlovu District Municipality as well as waste pickers themselves to say access control is needed at the site. groundWork used to have meetings at the landfill with waste pickers and officials but it became more and more dangerous as armed gangs were visible at the site.

The waste pickers committee had a meeting with city officials and they agreed that at one point the landfill has to be closed for couple of months, so that those who do not go to the landfill for recycling can leave. When the police raid came it was believed by the committee that the raid had good intentions. When the waste pickers ask the officials from the municipality, they were told to forget about going back to the landfill.

Some of the waste pickers grievances include:

  • Not having any source of income other than recycling to support themselves.
  • Waste pickers are raising, feeding their families for over 20 years through recycling at the New England Road Landfill.
  • Waste pickers previously warned the municipality about having access control at the gate to control who enters the site but this was not implemented.
  • Waste pickers have reported a number of issues and cases to the landfill manager and even provided solutions to some of these problems, but these were ignored.
  • National legislation approves waste pickers existence at landfills as long as that is controlled.
  • The recycling industry in Pietermaritzburg is on the verge of collapse due to waste pickers not being able to provide and contribute waste materials.


For media enquiries contact:

Musa Chamane| 082 380 2237|

Tsepang Molefe| 074 405 1257|

SAWPA Biennial 2022: Celebrating 13 years of movement building

We, the South African Waste Pickers Association today democratically elected a new leadership structure. This follows a three-day convening of our SAWPA leadership at our biennial meeting held in Observatory, Johannesburg which was attended by 120 waste picker leaders from all nine provinces and are based in 38 municipalities around the country. Our meeting also welcomed visitors from other African countries including Kenya, Ghana, and Sierra Leone.

During the meeting we also welcomed engagements and presentations from the City of Johannesburg and the national Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment. We appreciate the involvement of local and national government entities and see this as an important step in making sure that government works collaboratively with waste pickers to address the issue of inclusion of waste pickers to address the full lifecycle sound management of waste.

As a grassroot national organisation we were also honoured to have Abahlali BaseMjondolo president, Sbu Zikode address our leaders. Abahlali BaseMjondolo pledged their solidarity with waste pickers and also shared experiences and strategies on mobilizing.

We also would like to express our sincere gratitude to our founding partner groundWork and our global partner GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) for continuing to work closely with SAWPA since it was founded in 2009.

Over and above the election of a new leadership structure, as SAWPA we also highlighted some of the main issues and challenges facing the organisation and waste pickers in different municipalities around the country. These include the following:

  • Just transition – how waste pickers take part and are included within this process. Waste pickers are well informed on how this affects them and their work and lead with critical work on Zero Waste strategies across South Africa;
  • Democracy and transparency – maintaining the democracy and openness within the organisation, to make sure that all waste pickers are united and all speak with one voice;
  • Waste picker national registration – the ongoing process of registration of waste pickers by SAWPA and the department of Environmental Affairs across the country establishes an important database for SAWPA’s own organising and to ensure waste pickers are recognised by government in all corners of our country;
  • Waste Picker integration – the drive to engage all municipalities to ensure that waste pickers are formally integrated into the municipal waste management systems;
  • Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme – waste pickers must be the primary beneficiaries of the various industry sector EPR scheme because of the crucial role they play in the recovery of materials – without waste pickers there will be no recovery, recycling nor circularity.
  • Safety and security – issues of violent armed gangs and groups that intimidate and create an unsafe environment for waste pickers, especially women. This does not only threaten the livelihood of waste pickers but also their lives.

We congratulate all those appointed to serve and lead the waste picker revolution, the organisation pledges its support in working with the newly elected leaders. We are convinced that these are the leaders who are capable and fit to maintain unity within the organisation, and also strengthen solidarity with all our national and global partners.

SAWPA Biennial 2022: The Waste Picker Revolution

The biggest national waste pickers’ movement goes through an open and democratic process of electing its leadership structure, review past SAWPA activities from 2019 and plan for a way forward.

Johannesburg, Tuesday, 02 August 2022. The South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) is hosting its 6th biennial national meeting. The meeting will be convened in Observatory from 2nd to 4th  August 2022. Waste pickers from all nine provinces will be in attendance. The meeting will also build solidarity with African waste pickers from Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ghana. Waste pickers are organised in various countries in Africa and globally.

The primary purpose of the meeting is to elect a new leadership structure. This is the first opportunity for SAWPA to convene following the passing of national coordinator Simon Mbata who sadly passed on in February in a car accident. SAWPA leaders will also take time to reflect and take stock on the work done in the past two years as well as put together plans on how they take their struggle forward. 

Waste pickers play a very important role in our society as they pick materials from our waste streams for the purpose of recycling. They also help in terms of mitigating the impacts of climate change. When waste decomposes in landfills, it ends up emitting methane gas which is one of the drivers for climate change. Waste pickers make an honest living by taking discards and giving them second or third lives rather than disposing at landfills. Waste pickers also directly assist municipalities by diverting waste away from the landfills and dumpsites.

Since the launch of SAWPA in 2009, the organisation has experienced significant gains in their struggle. The 2009 conference focused mainly on gaining recognition of waste pickers by government, this became a reality after five years when the late former minister of Environment Affairs Edna Molewa told parliament that the existence of waste pickers in the country should be regarded as big positive initiative in the country. This formal recognition was cemented when the department of Environmental Affairs decided to commission guidelines for the integration of waste pickers into waste management systems in municipalities across the country. 

Municipalities from all over South Africa have since started engaging waste pickers as part of the integration process, however some are still moving at a snail’s-pace and failing to support the work of waste pickers. Positively we have seen cities such as city of Tshwane, City of Johannesburg starting to implement formal projects with the aim of working with waste pickers.

Additionally, industrial sectors have also been compelled by the Environmental Department to formulate plans for ensuring that their packaging waste materials or waste can be returned for reprocessing through extended producer responsibility schemes. These schemes have forced these industries to start negotiations with people in the value chain who are handling their materials post-consumer usage. Under this scheme, the registered waste pickers in the national registration system will start receiving a fee from EPR schemes as a payment for collecting the recyclables of different industries.

Overall, zero waste to landfill is what SAWPA wants and this is underpinned by the Waste Act 2008 which addresses the overall reduction of waste through its management over the whole waste cycle starting from the source. If all the packaging materials were made from recyclable materials, there will be no waste but resources for waste pickers in a circular economy. This would result in recycling rates in South Africa to rise, but this can only be achieved through government, industry, and waste picker collaboration.

This convening hopes to reflect from the 2019 national conference and to plan for 2022-2023. Priority issues include the ongoing registration of waste pickers, organising, integration, election of the new leadership, and solidarity and collaboration with other social movements such as Abahlali Basemjondolo. Following the three-day meeting SAWPA will draw out and adopt resolutions that will take the waste picker revolution forward.


#RestInPower Simon Mbata founding member of the South African Waste Pickers Association (1971 - 2022)

#RestInPower Simon Mbata founding member of the South African Waste Pickers Association (1971 - 2022) He will be buried in Kroonstad, Free State on 12 March 2022. Contributions can be made to Mrs Matieho Emily Mbata: Absa Bank ACC: 9207763406 Branch: 632005 International Transfer swift code ABSAZAJJ The memorial service will be on 10 March 2022 at 14:00. For more information contact Musa Chamane: +27 82 380 2237 /

SAHRC vs uMsunduzi: Municipality in high court for failing to cleaning up

Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Monday 15 February 2021- The case filed by the SAHRC against the uMsunduzi municipality over its management of the New England Road Landfill site in Pietermaritzburg is being heard in the high court today.

The case was filed in the high court by the SAHRC after its investigation on the matter, and consultations with different stakeholders including, groundWork, Ratepayers Association, Save PMB, affected communities and residents. Post its investigations the SAHRC red flagged the state of the site and its impact on the environment and on public health.

Read the full media release here.