In Africa, many thousands of unemployed people make a living from collecting and selling recyclable garbage and refuse.
Guest Column: FUBAR BUNDY
In most cases, their efforts are commendable and the work they do is praiseworthy indeed.
But in South Africa, this might not hold true.
On days when garbage bins are put out on the sidewalks, the recycle squads come out in their hordes.
The contents of the bins are quickly sorted into plastic, glass, paper, metals and other recyclable materials.
These are then overloaded onto their stolen supermarket trolleys, and carted off to the nearest unscrupulous scrap merchant, where they are sold for peanuts.
By and large, the recycle squads do a good job.
The African National Congress government does not have any plans, policies, or guidelines for recycling the more than 19 million tonnes of municipal waste generated domestically every year. Without the recycle squads’ contribution, the local garbage dumps will grow at an even faster rate than ever before.
But be that as it may.
There is another horde of recyclers at work in South Africa: The dark side recyclers. These are the criminals, who steal everything; electrical cables, copper and galvanised plumbing pipes, traffic lights, railway tracks, Armco barriers (guardrails on the side of the road), manhole covers, copper water taps and water meters — even the brass locks on doors of electrical substations and kiosks.
They are operating everywhere. Schools, hospitals, parks, blocks of flats, warehouses, workshops, churches, office blocks — everywhere.
Their unlawful activities are costing the country billions every year.
During school holidays, the dark recyclers move into the empty school buildings – stealing and vandalising to their evil hearts’ content; breaking windows, doors, ceilings, and furniture. Stealing electrical wiring, water pipes, computers, steel cabinets, and office and training material.
In most cases, these criminals target the ablution blocks at schools — stealing copper piping, taps, and cistern flush mechanisms. Where schools have feeding schemes, they will steal gas cylinders, microwave ovens, heaters, kettles, as well as pots and pans.
Windows, doors, and roof sheeting, are often carted off to be sold to squatters, who have invaded every piece of open land they can find.
Meanwhile, back in Johannesburg
In Johannesburg, as in all cities and towns in South Africa, roads and pavements are being stripped on a daily basis — all metals; from the guard rails to the bridge expansion joints; from communication cables to fences and garden gates.
Many of the large overhead road signs have been stolen, gantries demolished, storm water drain slabs removed, and traffic signal equipment stolen.
The thieves move along the highway; setting up temporary homes under some of the bridges to be close to their “workplaces”. The extent of the vandalism has been described as “rampant and devastating”. Whatever is stolen and replaced just gets stolen again.
“The Johannesburg Roads Agency quoted a replacement cost of R737,35 for one standard 3,8-metre length of guardrail, which means one kilometre would cost about R194 000,” Star Motoring reported.
Police in Durban have uncovered the theft of more than a million rand’s worth of metal Armco barriers.
The suspects were arrested and led police to the dealer’s premises.
There, a large container, with more than a million rand’s worth of barriers stored in it, was found. The container is believed to have been for export to India.
So what is the answer to preventing the dark recyclers from “recycling” South Africa into extinction?
For starters, the police should clamp down on unscrupulous scrap metal dealers, who buy the stolen goods from the “recyclers”. And then go after the criminal syndicates, who get enormously wealthy from their ill-gotten gains.
But in a country, where crime is rife and on the increase, this is not bound to happen in the near future.
Fubar Bundy is a renowned writer, of Indian origin, who travels the world and comments on the state of the various nations in general; and the level of development of selected countries in particular.
This article intially appeared on Khuluma Africa