Johannesburg - Every day for 12 hours, Mayfair-based waste pickers Mthandeni Rammile and Sello Mfiki trek the length and breadth of Joburg, hauling a trolley skip in search of waste.
They rummage through hundreds of trash cans across the city and about R300 a day is usually the reward for their efforts.
The money, about R9 000 a month, is not to salvage themselves from the pits they languish in or to send money to loved ones in the Eastern Cape and the Free State. Instead, the loot is to feed their deadly nyaope addiction.
Today, the two - sporting scruffy beards and unkempt hair, dressed in grimy and torn blue overalls - are navigating Booysens and Bellavista Streets in search of a ticket to the next fix despite having smoked earlier.
“We just had a smoke break and some food,” says Mfiki, the older of the two at 32. Rammile, 22, looks jaded and struggles to string together a sentence, often relying on his friend to fill in the gaps.
The pair are battling to extricate themselves from the addiction they claim they were unwittingly plunged into several years ago.
“We bought the trolley for R100 and the blue bag for R50 and put this skip together ourselves. We had two but the second one’s wheels have been damaged so it’s out of use for now,” Mfiki says.
Mfiki says he found himself clasped in the drug’s clutches about three years ago while working as a barman in Bez Valley.
This was seven years after moving to Joburg from King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. “I had a day job before this; I was a barman. I was kicked out after I picked up my smoking habit - I take nyoape,” he says, blushing.
He explains how he got addicted. “People should avoid asking for ama-two (cigarette skyf) when you see someone smoking. Two pulls of a nyaope joint and you’re hooked. That’s how I got here. I asked for a skyf from some other guys I knew around my former workplace. They used to smoke there and I took two pulls one day, I’ve been hooked ever since,” he says.
He’s adamant he wants to quit the addiction but admits “it’s almost impossible”.
“It would be great to quit this. Who doesn’t want a normal life? I want to have a family and children,” he says. “I want to quit but there’s not a chance - it’s difficult.”
Mfiki hasn’t been home since January 2015, just before he was introduced to the deadly drug.
“I want to go home but I haven’t had a chance to,” he said. Back home live his mother and younger brother. He has no children.
On the other hand, Rammile, who quit school in Grade 2, believes he was condemned to a life of hardship. Pulling up the sleeves of his tattered sweater to reveal covered scar marks, he murmurs: “Look. My dad did this to me when I was younger. He used to beat us up when he was drunk, me and my mother. She decided to run away one day and left me with my father. For a while I lived with my grandmother but she soon died.”
Rammile fled home, living on the streets until he ended up in Joburg. He struggles to recollect when this was.
“No one introduced me to waste-picking. I had to do something to make ends meet.”
The two purchase their daily dose at a Mayfair location they refuse to disclose.
“We smoke twice a day, once in mid-morning and in the evening. You can’t overdo ’cause it can damage you.”
Rammile from Sasolburg had never worked a day in his life before taking up waste-picking.
The evidently high Rammile struggles to recall when he was last home. Mfiki intervenes, once again.
“He has not been home in a long while. He knows his family but he hasn’t seen them for a long time,” he said.
Stammering through the conversation, struggling to construct a sentence despite speaking in his native language, Sesotho, Rammile often relies on Mfiki to piece together and articulate his point.
Their shift begins at 6am after spending the night under a bridge in Mayfair with 10 other vagrants. Waste pickers have in the past been seen to be a public irritation as they pull trolleys along main roads of the city.
“People do give us trouble on the road but we don’t pay much attention to them. We don’t mind them,” Mfiki says.
“We have no issues with the police. It’s motorists that tend to give us a hard time on occasions.
“Some can even stop the car and assault you for pulling your trolley on the road, some even knock us over if you stand your ground and don’t move over or run away. You just have to get out of their way and you’ll be fine.”
Every day, they say, they make about R300 for the waste they sell to a Newtown site.
“It depends on your luck on the day,” he says. “Every day we are on the street hustling. There’s not a day where we say ‘today we are off’. From 6am to 6pm - sometimes until 8pm, depending - we are here.”