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Cleaning up South Africa's townships

July 3, 2020

Many South African townships are drowning in waste due to a lack of trash collection services. Locals in one township in Nelson Mandela Bay are quite literally getting their hands dirty with creative solutions.

Recycling poster in South African township
Image: ReTrade/Carli Grobler

South Africa: Townships & the war on waste

In Motherwell, a township in Nelson Mandela Bay on South Africa's Eastern Cape, it's not unusual to see children playing amongst piles of dangerous, illegally dumped waste. Locals have been asking the government for proper waste disposal and storage for years — to no avail.

It's a problem across the country. A quarter of a decade after the end of Apartheid, the state has failed to bring water, electricity, as well as waste and sewage treatment to many townships.

In Walmer Township, also in Nelson Mandela Bay, residents have taken matters into their own hands.

Xolani Siwa, for instance, turned a former illegal dumpsite into a vegetable garden that has also been helping to feed those who've lost their jobs due to Covid-19. The garden has created five jobs in the community. Others have established a social recycling project called Re-Trade that supports around 60 informal waste pickers. The waste pickers can trade in their collected waste materials for food, clothing and other essential items at the six-year-old local recycling center. Could Walmer serve as a model for other townships?

A film by Stefan Möhl