Cecillia Iyambo and Setson Nghidinwa
RUNDU - Women from Sauyemwa informal settlement in Rundu meet at the town’s dumping site every morning to sift through piles of garbage for a living. They collect cans, glass and plastic bottles and sell them to a recycling company Rent -a- drum for a minimal fee.
The material collected is packed into bags and sacks and then weighed by Rent –a- Drum. The profit from the collected items is determined by the waste material’s weight. According to Juakina Likua, 44, a waste collector at the site, one bag costs between N$20 to N$40. “Depending on the amount of material I collected that day, I can make about one-hundred Namibian dollars a day,” Likua said.
Likua further said she has been making a living from the site for years. “I have been here for more than 10 years; this is where I feed my family from. Even if I am bitten by a snake or cut by a bottle, I simply go to the hospital then I return to my place of work again, I do not have a choice, its poverty that is driving us to work here.”
When asked why she has not registered with the ministry of gender’s poverty grant, she said she does not have the necessary documents.
54-year-old Maria Sirenga said, she has worked at the site for 20 years. “I have been working at this dumping site since 2001. This is the only form of employment I know. After my husband who normally took care of the family died, I used to struggle a lot to make ends meet and I have seven children to feed,” she said.
Sirenga further explained that their work environment is quite risky but she doesn’t have a choice because she has children. “If I sit idle at home, my children will not go to school. Over weekends my children also come here and help with collecting and sorting bottles.” Asked whether she experienced any hazardous effects due to her environment, she re-counted a story when she was bitten by a scorpion and ended up in the hospital.
Six out of the 10 women interviewed at the site said they did not have the national identity documents.
Fransiska Sikerete, a Strategic Executive for Community Services in the Rundu Town Council, confirmed that the council is aware of the women, because the town council granted them permission to work on the site. We are advocating for the recycling and re-use of waste material hence that permission.
The women further asked for any good Samaritans or the town council to provide them with protective gears such as gloves, overalls, masks and rubber boots. Additionally, they asked government to recognize them so that they can be registered with the appropriate institutions such as social security. “They can even help us with food, we will be thankful.”
However, on the protective gear and work environment, Sikerete said it is the women’s responsibility. “We advised them to acquire the right gears for that type of environment, we cannot supply them with any protective gears because they are not our employees.” She said.
Workers at site further informed MICT team that they were unhappy with the way business is going with their current supplier, saying the company pays their money into their bank account and due to the bank charges, they end up getting nothing. “Our previous supplier paid us in cash and that way we could easily get all our money but now it is as if we work for bank charges.”
Rent-a-drum’s manager in Rundu, Immanuel Doeseb said the women are paid through the bank because the company needs to have proof that he indeed paid them. He said the company currently employs two women from the site and whenever a job opportunity arises, his first priority are these ladies because they have enough experience.