Ban on scrap metal: informal traders continue to collect and sell metal despite ban

Mike* strips a vehicle for metal which he intends to sell to scrap metal dealers. Picture: Itumeleng English

Mike* strips a vehicle for metal which he intends to sell to scrap metal dealers. Picture: Itumeleng English

Published Dec 13, 2022


Johannesburg – The government’s attempts to curb the destruction and vandalising of vital infrastructure have resulted in the banning of cash transactions in scrap metal trading and the suspension of the export of certain types of scrap.

Furthermore, traders will be required to have permits to be allowed to legally deal in scrap metal and copper.

While the new rules have been positively received by members of the public and sectors of private and state-owned enterprises not everyone is convinced that the new rules will produce the desired results.

The Metal Retailers Association (MRA) does not support the ban. It highlighted the effects this would have on informal traders who rely on selling scrap metal to make a living.

In a response to IOL regarding how these rules would affect traders, the MRA said: “It will substantially decrease revenue derived from scrap metal sales, and potentially threaten the sustainability of certain metal recycling activities. Not only will this ban negatively affect business owners and SMEs, but the hardest hit would also be the informal traders (the poorest of the poor).

There are an estimated 300 000 participants, whose primary income is derived from the collection of scrap metal. The day after the ban was announced, the local consumers dropped their scrap metal pricing by R650pmt – 20%, which will be passed down to those who need it most.”

One such informal trader is Mike *not his real name.

Mike expressed his unhappiness with the government’s decision to prohibit cash transactions for scrap metal.

“It does not sit well with us because we are unemployed, there are no jobs, so we are just trying (to make a living). So if they prevent us from selling we’ll struggle,” he said.

Mike hails from Limpopo and relies on selling scrap metal to make a living. We came across Mike hammering away at a burnt chassis, trying to break it down into more manageable pieces at a dump in Protea South, Soweto.

He claims to have found the burnt-out shell this morning and had to break it down as scrap metal buyers will not accept the vehicle shell as a whole, because it would then require him to have documentation proving ownership of the vehicle.

On whether or not scrap metal dealers are adhering to the restrictions imposed by the government, Mike said that not all scrap metal buyers are playing by the rules.

He said, “Some buy from us and others refuse. I heard from the others guys that they were turned back. I’m just starting for the day. The other guys went ahead of me, I’ll follow them shortly.”

According to Mike police found them dismantling the vehicles and allowed him to go on about his business taking the vehicle apart, with his chisel and hammer.

“A police van came here, they didn’t get out of the car. They just looked and then they turned around and left. They were here yesterday as well.”

“We were scared, thinking that we’ll get arrested for something we know nothing about. They were here yesterday as well and took photos,” he said.

Mike’s primary objective is to sell the scrap metal for cash so that he can support his family.

“If they buy from me, I will use the money to buy food for my children. It’s December, I’ll buy my kids shoes,” Mike said.

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