Slice of life: Recycling for our lives

I came to Jo’burg 15 years ago from Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape and worked for a construction company. When the contract ended I worked at Clover as a general worker. That job ended too. That is when I started doing the recycling. 

I have been taking care of my three children with the little I make from selling the recycle to scrapyards around Jo’burg. We all live in a small makeshift room I got in Vrededorp, an old Jo’burg suburb near Auckland Park. My wife is now expecting our fourth child.

The best I make on good days from this work is R280, a lucky day; sometimes much less than this. I have provided for my family this way. My eldest son has even passed matric last year; I have been supporting him this way. He has since gone home to the Eastern Cape, where he wanted to study. My wife also helped here and there from getting her piece jobs, but she cannot work anymore due to her pregnancy.

This lockdown will hurt my family in the stomach. We will suffer for this whole period. I don’t even know what I will do when my wife gives birth in the next two weeks. All I can do now is to keep collecting the waste and store it at the place we stay until the scrapyards are open for business. 

I cannot just sit down, I will continue recycling while looking for different ways of trying to provide for my family. I am hopeful that after the lockdown I will have enough recycled waste to make money for me and my family.


At least the people who stand for our rights in this line of work have made sure that we get permits. So the police cannot stop us from doing our work. — Thabo Mxothwa’s story, as told to Chris Gilili

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is an Open Society Fellow in Investigative Reporting at Wits University. Currently spending six months with the Mail and Guardian in the Investigations desk. He started journalism with Independent Media’s vernacular publication, I’solezwe LesiXhosa in East London. He has freelanced for publications such as GroundUp and Workers World Media.

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