Waste Pickers must be celebrated – MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube

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Statement by the MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube on the World Environment Day 

Durban: The 5th June is World Environment Day, as declared by the United Nations.  

On this day, in my in capacity as the MEC for Environmental Affairs, I invite the people of this province to be part of efforts aimed at protecting and preserving our environment for future generations.  Nature is not a commodity that could be bought, sold and traded.

Many river banks in different parts of the province have been badly polluted through industrial pollution. Last year, this province experienced a terrible industrial spillage of 1, 6 million litres of vegetable oil and caustic lime from Willowton Oil Mills in Pietermaritzburg.

I personally witnessed thousands of dead fish and other species floating in Umsunduzi and Umngeni rivers – down to Inanda Dam.

waste pickers

Residents from Sobantu, Eastwood, Cinderella Park, Madiba, Pavilion informal settlements, Valley of Thousands Hills and Inanda were inconvenienced and exposed to serious health hazard.

Also, the South Durban basin is heavily air-polluted with many people experiencing respiratory illnesses because of air pollution caused by chemicals. Air-pollution experts from the department attended to many air-pollution cases last year.

Section 24 of the South African Constitution clearly states that “everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution…”

As the department we have undertaken to utilize the Council on Climate Change in order to usher in a new era. We will work with communities, academics and the private sector to protect our environment whilst at the same time, we must create a healthy nation capable for sustaining economic growth.

Critically, on this day I wish to warn the people of KwaZulu-Natal about the dangers of carelessly throwing away rubbish such as chewed gum, cigarette butt, plastic wrappers, cans and papers.

It should be noted that litter carries germs that end up in various places and as a result, it festers and forms a breeding ground for bacteria.

The effect of this is the exposure of the germs to the general public which can lead to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid if the litter gets into water sources or carried by pets and birds into our homes. The resulting diseases can lead to deaths and poor general public health, devastating the entire province.

I wish to pause and pay tribute to the waste pickers and street collectors from across the province.

They collect waste, travel between 60km – 100km a day, pulling about 300kg of waste which they also segregate before selling to recycling traders. This a symbol of indomitable courage. It is for these reasons that I regard them as wasteprenuers.

As the department, we are fully aware that the many waste collectors lost an income as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19. Before the lockdown, they earned R1500 to R2000 a month.

Their problems have been compounded by the fact that, as they are in the informal economy, they are not registered for Unemployment Insurance Fund. They are unable to claim any other employment related social security scheme.

I wish to report that following my discussion with key stakeholders in the informal economy, a team of officials has been assigned to deal with these challenges.  The team include officials from my department, Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs, municipalities, South African Local Government Association, Waster Pickers Association and the private sector.

We are exploring the possibility of integrating waste pickers into solid waste management systems of municipalities. In addition, we want to ensure that waste pickers are registered formally.

As the department, we are advocating advocate the greening of KwaZulu-Natal Province. When the country enters Level 1, we will have a series of meetings with the private sector to promote the use of the green technology which consumes less water and energy, thus causing less wastage of water and energy. 

Such technology releases no or less pollutant or poisonous gases, which also preserves nature, water and the environment ultimately.

No doubt, these small beginnings will certainly lead to a green KwaZulu-Natal.

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