The first thing you notice when driving into the Masupatsela Women’s Cooperative’s spacious yard are the smiles on the faces of just over a dozen people sorting and rummaging through refuse bags neatly spread all over the compound.
One of the smiles belongs to Salphy Nkoana, a middle-aged woman who scurries about the compound overlooking the activity of the sorters and offering guidance.
This has been part of her daily routine for over seven years now, as a co-founder of the cooperative, a township-based project to alleviate poverty by cleaning up the community, one house at a time.
“We wake up early in the morning to collect recycling materials from PET (polyethylene terephthalate plastic) to brown and green bottles and others from the street, and by going door-to-door within the community.
“By doing this we educate people about recycling and its key elements – reduce, reuse and recycle – which is then followed by a handout of refuse bags provided to us by the Ekurhuleni Municipality.
“When we create this awareness, people also want to collect materials and sell to us. We encourage this too as it generates an income for many in the community.”
After collecting the materials they come back to the yard built for them by the municipality and sort out the recyclables before selling them to factories.
Before the municipality knew about the project, Nkoana says she was just another number in the high unemployment statistics. She couldn’t find a job and resorted to selling sweets and chips on the street to avoid sitting at home all day. She also tried to attend night school in the hopes of earning a matric certificate. Neither plan was successful.
It was during this demotivating period in her life that she met four women at a failed community development project where they had learnt a little about recycling. Her passion for recycling was ignited and together they decided to start their own recycling business.
Now their business has grown to 15 workers, including the five founders and a whole community of contributors. Together they collect and create awareness in over 600 households, schools and shopping complexes in Tembisa and the surrounding townships.
“This place has really changed my life, I can now put food on the table and provide for my family. I am even able to pay school fees for my son to attend a special needs school, and now he’s performing better than he ever has!”
Another person who is just as happy to be there is Daniel Makope, who was first employed by the cooperative six years ago and now is the yard supervisor.
“I used to work in a hotel, but when my contract ended I was unemployed and desperately looking for work. When I found this, my life changed. I can put food on the table while doing something I love because this job is more practical. When you are in the field collecting recyclables from streets or houses, you feel healthy!”
Ekurhuleni Municipality’s Mpho Mogale said: “The municipality is happy about this cooperative as they are creating jobs and assisting in income generation in the community which contributes to reducing social issues.
“They have assisted in the eradication of dumping and there is a mindset change towards recycling, which is important for the municipality.”