Reclaimers hard hit by lockdown

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by Dorothy Mabelebele

The life threatening COVID-19 is heavily affecting the working class people and migrants. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet tackled the pandemic crisis in a different way which left out other South Africans and migrants with no protection from the government. Those left out include reclaimers, street vendors, self-employed, which were not part of  the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), the National Disaster Benefit Fund (NDBF) will be the one paying workers that their salaries will be affected during the COVID-19 pandemic and it will be a monthly payment of up to R3 500 for the three months.

African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) is a Johannesburg organization of informal reclaimers from Johannesburg’s streets and landfills. ARO has close to 6 000 reclaimers who are waste pickers in Johannesburg, some of the workers are migrants from Lesotho which makes it difficult for government to cover them as some are undocumented migrants.

Steven Leeu from ARO said that

“We have been knocking in all doors of government to be assisted during the pandemic to help the waste pickers with protective equipment but they failed”.

 “Our members are dying of hunger during this Lock down because they are not working and not benefiting from the government. We have been asking for donations so we can be able to provide our workers with food parcels and other products during the Lock down.” added Leeu.

Landfills reclaimers had to be stopped working during the COVID-19 as they do not have protective equipment and government fear that they will spread the virus in their communities. According to Leeu, Marie Luis Landfills cite that they had to leave their materials in the landfill and denied access to take their materials to the buyer as buyers also don’t have permit to buy those materials. This issue affected workers in Johannesburg and Pretoria particularly. Therefore ARO has approached Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy to tackle the issue of the reclaimers but she refused the request for reclaimers to be an essential service during the lockdown, however the Department of Environment and Coca Cola South Africa in association with ARO managed to distribute food to 2000 Reclaimers across Gauteng, they are also looking to reach more reclaimers. South Africa which is on the Lock down on27 March 2020 has forced many businesses, schools, churches, universities to close down to stop the spread of COVID-19.