Johannesburg’s informal waste pickers have been fighting a battle to be recognised as formal labourers for a few years now. Luyanda Hlatshwayo, is one of an estimated 6,000 informal waste-pickers in Johannesburg who live off other people’s garbage in what the World Bank calls the most unequal country on earth. The 35-year-old university dropout often makes the 9-kilometre trip on an empty stomach and pulls about 200-250kg of weight a day.
They are also key to the local economy, they collect as much as 80 percent of post- consumer packaging and paper material, making South Africa’s recycling rate equivalent to that of some Western European countries. The government does not regard them as essential workers, which means they couldn’t work during the lockdown. Yet they save municipalities between R309-million and R749-million a year.
This film is an intimate portrait of how Luyanda Hlatshwayo, Zanele Kubeka, Sipho Msiza and other informal recyclers navigate homelessness, the law, and survive the big city that is Johannesburg.