Waste Pickers – Bulawayo’s solid waste good samaritans

Like the biblical parable traveler who was robbed, stripped, beaten and left by the road side to die, only to be saved by a societal underdog – a samaritan passerby, the City of Bulawayo’s solid waste management nightmare is being ameliorated by the poor, marginalized, unrecognized and often discriminated upon waste pickers.

Between the month of January and February 2022, MIHR monitored 20 waste pickers and the organization recorded 11 883 Kg (11,83m3) of solid waste being picked by these pickers for resale. This include rubber, pet, tin, scrap metal, plastic, and HD.

This is happening at a time when the Bulawayo City Council is admitting to be having a solid waste management problem as the local authority’s latest full council minutes indicate that “Lack of machinery had affected operations at the landfill. The landfill compactor, dozer and front end loader had been off the road for over a year. We depend on hiring machinery which was proving to be expensive, if only our machinery was repaired this would serve us.”

Working with the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights initiated Bulawayo Female Waste Pickers Association membership of 300 people, this gives an average of 178 245 Kgs (178,25m3) of solid waste being taken from the landfill site and the streets of Bulawayo by the waste pickers. This is the waste that was not going to be compacted at Richmond Landfill site due to capacity constraints and could eventually become pollution.

Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) is currently running a project that seek to transfer the waste picking sector to be gender sensitive and human rights based. The organization is directly working with 150 female waste pickers who have established a Bulawayo Waste Pickers Association that is currently having a membership of over 300 people. MIHR is also working with the City’s waste buyers, who have been assisted to form a Bulawayo Waste Buyers Association.

Like the traveler who was mugged, robbed, stripped and left for death, the City of Bulawayo has suffered a lot due to the Zimbabwean policy of centralization. The current peacemeal devolution of power implementation has also done very little to empower the Bulawayo City Council to diversify their income sources and be a viable entity. However, as the good samaritan, the waste pickers are doing a splendid task assisting the City to contain its solid waste management problem with little incentives.

MIHR believes that once strengthened, waste pickers can save the City millions of dollars that could have gone towards waste management. They also have the capacity to sustain their families from waste picking proceeds, thus reduce the poverty burden and improve the City’s revenue collections.

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