Local documentary Street Dogs highlights the role that waste reclaimers play in the Samora Machel township. Picture: Supplied.
Local documentary Street Dogs highlights the role that waste reclaimers play in the Samora Machel township. Picture: Supplied.

Local documentary set for release on the international stage

By Keshia Africa Time of article published Jun 6, 2021

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SAMORA Machel resident Aphiwe Koti ekes out a living scavenging dump sites because he does not want to be another unemployment statistic.

Koti, 23, is the focus of a new documentary Street Dogs that delves into the lives of waste reclaimers near Philippi and is set to screen for international audiences later this month.

Koti defines a waste reclaimer as someone who collects waste to exchange it for money at recycling centres or scrap yards. As part of his involvement in the documentary he also learnt skills as a sound engineer.

The Street Dogs documentary, completed in 2020, was directed by Sivenathi Ntshwanti, and produced by Eliana Nkembo who along with Koti completed a 12-week DOCi American Film Showcase Programme with the DOCi Emerging Filmmakers institution.

All documentaries were funded by the US embassy in South Africa. The DOCi Emerging Filmmakers Programme works with emerging and first-time filmmakers to help place a human-rights lens onto their own communities.

Street Dogs explores the role that informal waste reclaimers play in the informal management of waste in the country, especially in impoverished communities like the Samora Machel township. In the documentary, Koti shares how he became a waste reclaimer.

Koti said he saw how many young people were unemployed and did not want to become a statistic.

“I started being an informal waste reclaimer because I see this as a solution to the community. If we can start an organisation that facilitates this, we will be able to employ many youths that are sitting at home, waiting for opportunities that never come,” said Koti.

Ntshwanti said he could relate to the story that Koti shared because he sees waste reclaimers in Philippi everyday.

Nkembo said that when they started working in groups, they were not aware that Aphiwe was a waste reclaimer.

“We chose to pursue this story because we wanted to share a human interest story that reflects the lives of normal people, hoping that it would challenge the stereotype of how people treat waste reclaimers,” she said.

Nkembo had her first experience as a producer with this documentary.

“I learned a lot in the process and it was very interesting to see what goes into making a film, especially around such a sensitive topic.”

Koti, shared how waste reclaimers were often treated like dogs, being chased away for trying to find goods that can be recycled. This was where the name for the documentary came from.

“We are being called street dogs and beggars by the people in our community, but we just want to bring about change in our community,” he said.

One of the challenges Koti faces while collecting thing to recycle is not having enough waste to trade for money.

“The waste we gather gets measured on a scale; if it’s less than 5kg, we get chased away.”

He said that he wanted to share this story to spread awareness about the service that informal waste reclaimers offer.

Aphiwe Koti wakes up early in the morning to start collecting waste to exchange for money in Samora Machel. Picture: Supplied.

Nkembo said that the purpose of sharing this story was to change the narrative around waste reclaimers.

“People should see the big role that they play in our community. They play a pivotal role in keeping Cape Town clean,” said Nkembo.

The Street Dogs documentary is set to premiere at the Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival next Thursday.

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