Towns like Mthatha are experiencing an increase of women and their children who have migrated from rural areas in search of a better life. They are driven by poverty and only manage to eke out a living in the town.
The landfill site is a source of food for many now.
The Mthatha landfill site is dotted with women looking for food. They are hungry and have to compete with animals for the scraps. Some also keep an eye out for recyclable materials and other valuables.
Nosisa Masela says poverty and unemployment are driving people out of the rural areas.
“Yes, sometimes we get food from the plastics. When you open the plastic, you are likely to get edibles and that becomes a big day for you because you know that your kids will have something to eat and they will not sleep on their empty stomach. Our dignity was longtime degraded, we have no dignity at all because we work and eat from this landfill,” says Masela.
It is an existence fraught with danger. Young and old rush to the trucks that come to offload. But even the food they scavenge might be dangerous for them, as it is often expired.
Bonelwa Sweli and Bulelwa Oliver are two young women that are solely dependent on what they collect.
“The reason why I decided to come and scavenge food and recyclable material here, it’s because my mother has never had an identity document, as a result, I do not have an identity document. So, as to my kids, they do not have birth certificates. The only way to get food is to run after these trucks, sifting food for our family. Some of the kids prefer going to the streets of Mthatha to get something to eat.
Thenjiwe Ndala has over many years managed to send her kids to school by collecting recyclables. Two of her children are now graduates but unemployed.
“I have been here for more than 20 years. I collect the card boxes, collect the steel and buy some from the boys here. I sell steel material in Durban. It is my only way of living. I have managed to send my children to universities, one has graduated and the other one is a third-year student at Nelson Mandela University. When I started this, he was in Grade R, recycling and sifting food has been my part of life,” says Ndala.
The Director of NGO Ubuntu Restoration, Tshepo Machaea, says they are very concerned about the state of affairs.
“It’s a big concern to us almost every day, but it’s just by God’s grace that most of them are not really dying out of what they are eating but it is not really acceptable, the way they live. They do not have a better environment. They sleep here, some of them at times, and as well as you have said they eat everything that is here.” says Machaea.
The indignity the people here suffer also extends to death. When they die, a paupers burial awaits.