Recyclers on Thursday dived into the piles of trash in Braamfontein to gather what they could ahead of clean-up operations led by Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau and other city councillors.
Dressed in dark pants, a beanie and a big dark jacket, a recycling man used his bare hands to sift through the trash for recyclable material.
Just metres away from him were Tau, the councillors and some of the Pikitup management who protected their hands with latex and heavy duty gloves which they often swopped for fresh, cleaner ones.
The recycler, who asked that he not be named, said he had never used to gloves to go through the bins.
“I don’t have gloves, but after doing my job, I use soap and water to wash my hands,” he said. His dark hands with puny fingernails had calluses and sores which were beginning to heal.
“I do get sick and get sores on my hands because of all the germs that I am exposed to, but there is nothing I can do about it,” he said, adding that he was now used to it.
Debris litters the streets
The city has been in disarray since striking waste management workers went on the rampage, emptying dustbins into the road and ripping apart bags of trash.
Bottles, papers, cans, old weaves and hairpieces and rotten food was among some of the debris littering the streets.
Dressed in overalls and masks and armed with brooms, the councillors and Pikitup officials, who seemed determined to clean up the littered streets, were also wearing T-shirts with the words, “Trash to Treasure” printed on the back.
These words, however, carried greater meaning for the recycler.
On a regular day of trash collections, he collected around R300 a day. “And I use it to eat and take care of my girlfriend and buy clothes. This is not how I always look,” he said with a chuckle.
In the dark
While Pikitup management said it was still in the dark about why its workers were protesting, the recycler said he too was affected by the strike action.
“The strike has affected me because now, in some flats where I am used to doing my rounds, they are keeping the dustbins inside because they don’t want them to be stolen or burnt by strikers. That means that I can’t get any money. I need the money to pay my rent,” he said.
On a regular day, the recycler said he made around R300 a day. Since the strike started, he made between R80 and R100 a day.
Placing his recyclable material in a big trolley, he said he could not wait for things to return to normal.