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Msunduzi New England Road Landfill and Construction of a Materials Recovery Facility, South Africa

For over 10 years, Pietermaritzburg waste pickers struggled for access to the Msunduzi New England Road confronting abusive security guards and city officials refusing to build a materials recovery facility.


For over 10 years, waste pickers, also known as informal recyclers or reclaimers, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa have struggled for access to the recyclable materials that make their livelihoods possible. In December 2008, around 100 protesters, most of them residents of Ash Road informal settlement, marched to the City hall to hand over a memorandum to the Msunduzi Municipality [1]. They were angry at the everyday physical abuse that they were suffering at the hands of the municipality’s security guards stationed at the Msunduzi New England Road landfill site. The site is used to dump material from companies in Pietermaritzburg, including expired food and dangerous objects [8]. Marching with them were members of groundWork, a local environmental justice organization, and leaders of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement, which fights for the rights of shack dwellers. After the mayor and municipal manager both declined the memorandum, the community development process manager Mandla Zuma accepted it [1]. Besides demanding protection from abusive security guards who had previously harmed and shot reclaimers working at the landfill, the protesters also wanted to be included in any decisions that affect their operation at the site. While Zuma claimed that there are laws that prevent the municipality from allowing people free movement inside the dump, the waste pickers stated clearly in their memorandum that, “The National Environmental Management Waste Bill allows for ‘salvaging’ of waste off landfill sites. Developments at the site, such as the gas extraction project and recycling proposals have excluded the waste pickers and not sought their opinions on such developments” [1] Zuma responded by saying that the City would look into the matter [1], but this case would turn out to be one of many of instances of the City’s abusive and negligent approach towards its waste pickers.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Msunduzi New England Road Landfill and Construction of a Materials Recovery Facility, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:KwaZulu-Natal
Location of conflict:Pietermaritzburg
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,493,940 [6]
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:At least 700 waste pickers [5].
Start of the conflict:01/12/2008
Relevant government actors:Msunduzi Local Municipality, uMgungundlovu District Municipality, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:groundWork,, SAWPA (South African Waste Pickers Association),, PACSA (Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action),, Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust,, Energy Action Group
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Soil contamination, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Deaths
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:Rather than continue restricting waste picker access, or building a waste-to-energy incinerator at the site, organizations like SAWPA and groundWork stand with waste pickers who are still advocating for the construction of a materials recovery facility (MRF), which would clear landfill space, avoid unnecessary combustion, and formally employ waste pickers in safer working conditions.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Waste pickers at the landfill continue to work in extremely dangerous conditions and endure physical abuse from security guards. The materials recovery facility (MRF) has still not been constructed, despite the funds being collected over 8 years ago in 2011.
Sources & Materials

[1] Dumpsite pickers protest
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[2] Waste Pickers Vulnerable Without Government Protection
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[3] Landfill death sparks a furore
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[4] South African waste pickers call on the government to build recycling facility
[click to view]

[5] Waste Pickers Demand Answers
[click to view]

[6] Recycling facility construction halted by intergovernmental disputes
[click to view]

[7] Memorandum from the Waste Pickers at the Msunduzi New England Road Landfill
[click to view]

[8] Waste Pickers Protest Over Access to Dump Site
[click to view]

[9] South Africa: State force unleashed on peaceful waste pickers
[click to view]

[10] Waste Pickers stand against municipality
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[11] Waste-Pickers Threaten Landfill Site Lockdown
[click to view]

[12] South African Waste Pickers Association - SAWPA
[click to view]

[13] Waste picker killed at landfill site
[click to view]

[14] Waste Pickers Threat to Municipality
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[15] Concerns over waste pickers
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[16] I love it here, says dump site resident
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Waste Pickers Protest in Pietermaritzburg: Waste pickers shut down the New England municipal landfill site earlier this morning after a statement made by Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela, to shoot waste pickers with pellet guns was made last week. A group of at least 100 people gathered at the entrance at 5:30AM, bolting the gates to the site and piling burning refuse across the entrance driveway. The Pietermaritzburg police soon arrived and the protesters dispersed after the police fired rubber bullets into the crowd. Some of the protestors were then taken into custody and then released an hour later. VIDEO: CHELSEA PIETERSE
[click to view]

Other documents

Memorandum from the Waste Pickers at the Msunduzi New England Road Landfill November 10th, 2015 Memorandum from the Waste Pickers at the Msunduzi New England Road Landfill stating their grievances and demands to the Msunduzi Local Municipality
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rickie Cleere, University of Bayreuth - ICTA, [email protected]
Last update26/09/2020
Conflict ID:4179
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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