South Africa: COVID-19 - Residents Lend a Helping Hand to Waste Picker in Benoni

"If many people offer help to waste pickers during this difficult time of the coronavirus, South Africa will be a better place," says waste picker

Sipho Majola, a 59-year-old waste picker from Benoni, says news of the lockdown reduced him to tears because it meant he could no longer move freely to collect recyclable materials.

"When I heard about the lockdown and how our selling points would be closed for 21 days, my eyes filled with tears, wondering what my wife and I would eat," he says.

Majola and his wife live in one of the old railway houses next to the Benoni train station. He has been a waste picker for more than five years. He says he came to Gauteng more than 20 years ago from the Eastern Cape to find work, but only managed to find occasional piecemeal jobs. He eventually started collecting waste material in and around Benoni, and sold it in town to survive.

Majola says he was collecting materials in Wattville a few days before the lockdown started two weeks ago, when a family approached him and offered to give him weekly food parcel until the lockdown ended. He says other residents have since set aside recyclable items for him to collect each week.

"Suddenly my tears turned into joy. If it wasn't for the well wishers l don't know what my wife and I would eat."

He says residents advised him to worry about his health "as l am already an old man", and stay safe from contracting the Coronavirus. "If it wasn't for the residents, I would have had no choice but to walk my usual rounds collecting recyclable material".

GroundUp spoke to Majola while he was pulling his trolley along the road in Wattville where he had collected his food and recyclables. He says he used to pull his trolley as far as Brakpan and Springs, some 15km away. "It feels good not to work too hard for once in my life," he says.

"The work that we do is not easy, but we have no choice. It will be a long year before l can get a pension. l just have to endure until then."

Majola urged other Benoni residents to help waste pickers with food and other essential goods to help them survive during lockdown. "If many people offer help to waste pickers during this difficult time of the coronavirus, South Africa will be a better place," he said.

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