Mushroomville opposite SuperSport Park cricket stadium where waste pickers live and work. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
Mushroomville opposite SuperSport Park cricket stadium where waste pickers live and work. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

SA lockdown: Waste pickers lose urgent court bid to be declared an essential service

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Apr 7, 2020

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Pretoria - The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, has turned down an application by Lawyers for Human Rights to have waste pickers declared an essential service during the 21-day national lockdown.

Government opposed the urgent application and said while it has sympathy for the plight of waste pickers, they cannot be allowed to roam the streets and endanger the lives of others.

The City of Tshwane, in its opposing filing, said it in any event did not have the means to provide the waste pickers with protective clothing, as demanded by them.

The roughly 250 waste pickers who are part of this application, said since the lockdown they have been prevented by the police and SANDF to leave their homes to pick, sort and sell their waste.

They are of the opinion that, just like the municipal waste removers, they are also performing essential services. They say that while they are already poor and battle to make ends meet with their meagre income from selling waste, they are now entirely left without an income to feed themselves and their families.

LHR wrote a letter of demand to the City and government last week, in which they had set out the plight of these people. They asked for an undertaking that the waste pickers will be included in the essential services sector. As this undertaking was not forthcoming, they turned to court.

Louise du Plessis of Lawyers for Human Rights with waste pickers at Mushroomville, opposite SuperSport Park. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

LHR lawyer Louise du Plessis said in an affidavit that while the severity of Covid-19 is recognised and the fact that people should stay home, waste picking did fall within the definition of essential services.

“If the order is not granted, the applicants will be subjected to starvation and poverty. She said while the government's stance is that thousands of people’s lives will be at risk if these people were allowed to walk the streets, the solution is to provide them with protective gear.

She said the City was not the only entity which could provide these safety gear, as there were several departments which could assist.

Du Plessis said the waste pickers did not want an order declaring that they could do as they wished. They undertook to only work during certain hours on certain days and in certain areas.

She said their services form part of the recycling chain and it assists the City’s municipal services.

With the coronavirus lockdown waste pickers are unable to continue with their recycling. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Minister of Cooperative Governance  and traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said  a national lockdown is to ensure the saving of lives and to try and avoid a disaster which could engulf the entire South African nation.

She said the lockdown has caused enormous  economic hardship to the entire country and not only to this group of people. “To enable the applicants to  roam the streets would be tantamount to authorising them to break the law,” she said.

The minister added that waste and refuse removal is a municipal function which is provided by the municipalities during this time.

Judge Nomonde Mngqibisi-Thusi did not give reasons for dismissing the urgent application.

Pretoria News

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