It is early morning in Johannesburg. The light of the day is still not out; it is that time of the morning when there are no colours, all we see are shades of bluish grey. There is a symphony of birds of all sorts. The silence of nature is affronted by this dragging metallic sound. And there they come. It is refuse collection day and all the bags are outside on the pavements awaiting collection.
They come and they scavenge our refuse bags. These are some of the gears that keep the engine of the recycling industry running. They scavenge our refuse bags for plastic, glass, paper all sorts of materials that they can sell to the recyclers for some meagre earnings.
I am ashamed to admit that I feel ashamed to witness human beings scavenging my refuse, I silently sit in my patio and pretend not to see them, they pretend not to see me. They open and dig and collect and then carefully put it all back and close the bags as if nothing has ever happened.
I am so proud of my humanitarian attitude. Until I learnt differently, but it takes a few weeks before I collect myself to actually act on my decision.
First I had to be brave enough to ask permission to take a photo. This woman was so happy that someone wanted to photograph her, I felt that embarrassment again.
I know where she comes from – she walked between 5kms to 14kms to be here. She comes from the Germiston Squatter Camp. This is a slum that spreads through an area of about 9kms. This is a village, unofficial and unrecognised village. People from all over Africa live here. They come to Gauteng, the Place of Gold, in hope of a better life and they end up living in one of the many slums that exist in Johannesburg.
For many years the squatter camp has been haunting me. As any other person living in South Africa and particularly in Johannesburg, I know that squatter camps are synonymous with crime, drugs, prostitution, disease and all sorts of pestilence. The idea of having this squatter camp just about 5km from where I live used to send my entire DNA code into alarm mode.
I decide to take a drive there. Before I speak to one of these recyclers I need to see it again. I need to try to see it from the eyes of this people. This is a place of uttermost poverty, illiteracy, a level of human ignorance that none of us can possibly imagine.
Piles of rubbish sometimes double the height of the flimsy shacks. Sometimes they set it on fire, this because our municipality, while allowing this camp to grow 9km in length, does not have the human decency to collect the refuse. Ironically, the scavengers of our refuse bags are those piling up the rubbish in their own living area, in their children playground.