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Wastepickers against privatization in the City of Tshwane, South Africa

Wastepickers in the City of Tshwane (Pretoria) face displacement and the loss of their livelihoods as a result of landfill closures and evictions in settlements like Mushroomville.


On Wednesday November 1st, 2017, more than 500 wastepickers from over 70 dumping sites within the City of Tshwane took to the streets in response to the City’s failure to employ 261 wastepickers who were displaced after the closure of Kwaggasrand landfill (1). They marched with waste-collection bags and garbage down Madiba Street until they reached Tshwane House, where they delivered a memorandum of their grievances (2). The overarching demand of the wastepickers was that they wanted the City to do more to support their livelihoods. The national movement of wastepickers, the South African Waste Pickers’ Association (SAWPA), and the environmental justice NGO groundWork also called for greater support in securing and dignifying waste picker livelihoods. They also emphasized how the threat of toxics exposure at poorly managed landfills makes informal waste recovery a major health risk that can lead to wastepicker accidents, injuries, and even death (1). As the hundreds of protestors marched behind SAWPA, they chanted, “We are fighting for our rights - we are fighting for our livelihoods (2).” 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Wastepickers against privatization in the City of Tshwane, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Gauteng
Location of conflict:City of Tshwane (Pretoria)
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:Recycled Metals
Domestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

54 milliion tons of waste are sorted and recycled through by wastepickers in Gauteng annually (4).

Level of Investment for the conflictive projectAccording to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the formal waste sector in South Africa was estimated to be worth at least R15.3-billion (4). Not much is known about the value generated by the informal waste sector.
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:50,000 wastepickers in Gauteng (4), over 100 residents in Mushroomville (5,6).
Start of the conflict:11/01/2017
Company names or state enterprises:Turnover Trading 191 (Pty) Ltd from South Africa - Owner of Mushroomville Properety (evicter)
Relevant government actors:City of Tshwane, Gauteng Department of Economic Development, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development, Pretoria High Court
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:GroundWork (, South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) (, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
(, Lawyers for Human Rights (Pretoria)
(, Project Zion
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Forms of mobilization:Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow
Potential: Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession
Potential: Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Lawyers for Human Rights is arguing the case that wastepickers have a right to stay and make living (6,7,8).

WIEGO and Project Zion will continue working closely with reclaimer communities in Tshwane towards a long-term integration plan (8).
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The eviction case in Mushroomvlle is still ongoing, and in the meantime most wastepickers in Tshwane remain marginalized.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by South Africa in 2015)

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996)

(1) Tlhabye, Goitsemang. “Waste Pickers Demand a Better Deal.” Pretoria News, 2 Nov. 2017.
[click to view]

(2) SAWPA. “Waste Pickers March against Displacement in Tshwane (South Africa).” Global Alliance of Waste Pickers |, 30 Oct. 2017.
[click to view]

(3) Frankson, Liesl. “Waste Project Expected to Create Jobs.” Infrastructure News, NOVUS PRINT (PTY) LTD, 6 Sept. 2017.
[click to view]

(4) Tseke, Malebo. “Waste Pickers Get Their Wheels.” Tembisan, Caxton & CTP Printers and Publishers Ltd., 8 Sept. 2017.
[click to view]

[click to view]

(6) Nyoka, Nation. “Precarious Lives of Recyclers.” New Frame, 14 June 2019.
[click to view]

(8) Lawyers for Human Rights. “[PRESS RELEASE]: MUSHROOMVILLE INFORMAL RECLAIMERS FIGHT FOR RIGHT TO EARN A LIVING.” Lawyers for Human Rights, 2 Dec. 2019.
[click to view]

(7) Postman, Zoë. “Mushroomville Waste Pickers Avoid Eviction, for Now.” GroundUp News, GroundUp, 4 Feb. 2019.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rickie Cleere, University of Bayreuth - ICTA, [email protected]
Last update05/12/2019
Conflict ID:4842
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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