© Mark Lewis, Johannesburg, 2021
I’m from Lesotho. I started reclaiming in 2016. Before, I was working in the kitchens as a maid, it wasn’t easy. I am a mother. I have family in Lesotho, so my boss didn’t want me to visit home. Like… he would just say: “Make a phone call”. No, as a parent, there are sometimes when you have to see your child, your family, face to face. They need your attention, not somebody else’s.
With my job, I support my mother, my child, and some of my brothers, niece, yeah, because they are not working.
Recycling is good. We are helping the government; we are saving the environment. But there’s some people, I don’t know how they take us. Yes, we are dirty when we go to work, the reason of being dirty is: people mix, they don’t separate, they mix everything inside one bin. So, what I’ll ask is: they must take us as human beings, not criminals, we are feeding our families through that job. They call it rubbish, but for us, it’s gold.
And the taxi drivers… I don’t know, they just hit you… We make sure that we don’t just ride our trolleys in the middle of the road. But they just come from where they have to move or park the cars where we have to pass. It’s not good. We are human beings, we have to treat each other like human beings.
I am upset about how the city of Johannesburg is treating us. Like, there was a time when we were doing registrations. They said every reclaimer, we want them to register, but issuing the cards, they said they will issue them to South African citizens only: why? Because, we are playing a major part, even if we are not South African citizens.
During this Covid pandemic, last year, when it started, we didn’t know what this was and how long it was gonna take. We were not prepared; we were not ready. We had material, but we did not sell the material. We had nothing. When they distributed the food parcels, they said they were given to people with IDs: why?
Before, I was thinking: in Africa, I’m welcomed in every country. But I noticed that I was mistaken. Where I belong is Lesotho. Because I have the passport of Lesotho. If the government of Lesotho didn’t do anything for us, we were supported by ARO (African Reclaimers Organisation). Such amazing work. And it doesn’t have funds, but our coordinator is trying all his best to see that our lives change for the best.
Please, I’m pleading to the residents, they must take out the bins early, before the truck. Because if they take the bins, like when the truck is here, it’s when we leave. This is my work as a reclaimer; how I take my child to school. My child is doing great. He was supposed to be in grade 11, which is matric this year, but because of Covid, he didn’t write the final exams last year.
If they don’t take the bins on time, I just go to the location and come back empty-handed. And they must separate at source. Please, they must take us as human beings and treat us like workers.