Maverick Citizen

MUSHROOMVILLE

Evicted Tshwane waste pickers say they now have no means of making a living

Mushroomville residents in Centurion, Gauteng, drag their suitcases along a muddy pathway on 15 November 2021 in preparation for their relocation. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

‘We can’t sell anything or do recycling — and remember, we are here to work, not to stay and spend money,’ says an evicted waste picker.

After several failed attempts to evict the Mushroomville waste pickers, the City of Tshwane finally managed to move the community to Sunderland Ridge. 

Mushroomville is a community of more than 180 informal waste pickers, including 25 families, who made their home opposite the SuperSport Cricket Stadium in Centurion, next to the Hennops River. The community has been facing eviction notices since 2015. 

Their eviction followed intimidation on 16 November 2021, when the City of Tshwane was ready to move the community despite at the time failing to comply with a court order to:

  • Erect no less than 109 temporary housing units in Sunderland Ridge;
  • Provide access control and an ongoing security plan to prevent invasion or any unlawful activities or threats;
  • Provide 10 chemical toilets;
  • Provide five water points; and
  • Assist the community with relocation by providing transportation.

All this was to be in place before the community was relocated. However, by 16 November, only 40 units and one water point were ready, but the City of Tshwane insisted that the community move in groups. On hearing this, the Mushroomville community asked to be moved as one group.

In mid-December 2021, about 200 waste pickers were evicted to municipal land in Sunderland Ridge where all was ready to accommodate them, in line with the court order. The community was allowed to sell their recyclables before moving to Sunderland Ridge. 

The landowner, Turnover Trading, offered to buy the recyclable products which the community could not sell before relocating at up to R2,000 a person.

Members of the Mushroomville community told Maverick Citizen that life after relocation is a battle. 

Ma Mesting, an evicted Mushroomville waste picker, said: “Life in Sunderland Ridge is twice as hard. Without any means of income, many livelihoods are on the brink of survival. 

“We were given very strict rules not to work from here, but where will the money for food and other basic needs such as toiletries come from if we just sit here? 

“We have to walk about 16km to the Centurion business centre for work to at least have a little something to eat every day. We pass by dodgy bushes day and night. Anything can happen to us on the way, but no one cares.” 

Mamabitla Anastasia Ntika said: “There is no life here [in Sunderland Ridge] because the rules and regulations are just unreasonably strict. 

“We are not allowed to cook on-site with open fires or use any flammables, but there is no electricity. We can’t sell anything or do recycling — and remember, we are here to work, not to stay and spend money.

“If they take those houses and give us a place to work similar to the one in Hennops River where they moved us from, it will be adequate for us to stay there and work.”  

Ntika said that because life in Sunderland Ridge is unbearable, they have decided to look for land in Centurion from where they can work. 

The community has divided itself into three different groups and is slowly but surely moving back to different locations in Centurion.

A group that had moved back and was operating underneath the Gautrain railway line close to Centurion Mall was evicted again on Tuesday. Some of their recyclable products were confiscated by the City of Tshwane. 

Stefan van der Westhuizen, director of RubiconZA, a nonprofit organisation that intervenes to protect basic human rights, has been working closely with the community of Mushroomville to help them formalise their trade. 

“For the second time in two months the same group of informal waste pickers… has been evicted from where they were now operating since the Hennops River eviction. 

“I can’t believe the City of Tshwane can make it so hard for people to work. Do they want people to depend on handouts?” said Van der Westhuizen. DM/MC 

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