On June 20th, 2018, at least 70 waste pickers near the Genesis landfill (Johannesburg, South Africa) were violently attacked in a raid carried out by the Red Ants, a private security company specialising in evictions . During the raid, reclaimers’ valuables (including phones and money) were stolen, passports were destroyed and workers were fired upon with rubber bullets. At least 15 people were admitted to the South Rand Hospital for injuries, including 4 people who were later transferred to the Johannesburg General Hospital with serious injuries .
The victims of this attack have worked and lived near the Genesis landfill for 17 years, with at least 20 families living in a small temporary settlement behind the landfill, near the railway. Waste pickers had traditionally been permitted to work during the landfill’s operating hours, but workers were prohibited entry once Averda, a multinational waste management corporation based in Dubai, assumed ownership and operation of the landfill in September 2016. To make matters worse, Averda served an interdict earlier in June 2018 evicting reclaimers from the landfill. Averda’s Communication Manager Martin Slabbert-Capper said the interdict was to stop the recent violence, theft and damage to property by waste pickers who gained unauthorised entry to the landfill. However, the waste pickers say Averda is preventing them from entering the landfill to get recyclable materials. “They [Averda] don’t see us as human beings contributing to the City and helping the environment by recycling … All they see is dirty people who must be moved away,” said Mduduzi Dube, one of the waste pickers. He also said that while there had been a verbal agreement with the previous owners of the landfill allowing waste pickers to sort through for sellable recyclable materials, for the past year and a half the waste pickers have had to go into the landfill in the evenings once the security guards left .
With the help of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), the interdict was postponed and the case was heard on July 16th. However, because the June 20th raid conducted by the Red Ants involved the invasion of waste pickers’ homes on land not owned by Averda, it defied the court’s postponement of the interdict and went beyond the jurisdiction of the eviction order.
With the help of WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) and SERI, waste pickers filed two cases of assault and robbery, with several others filing cases of unlawful arrest, assault and theft. SERI supported the reclaimers in challenging the July 16th interdict, and the case between Averda and a group of the informal waste pickers was postponed to October 15, 2018 by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg . As of now, however, the progress of the case remains unclear. In the meantime, waste pickers are trying to re-negotiate access to the landfill with Averda so that they can continue to work and support their families through recycling .
WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) calls on organised workers in South Africa and internationally, to stand in solidarity against the multinational Averda's employment of brute force against the Genesis landfill reclaimers (WIEGO). In particular, WIEGO will be appealing to its ally the Public Services International (PSI), which has for years been challenging the role of private companies such as Averda which take over the cleaning and waste functions of municipalities through privatisation (WIEGO) .