Creating employment, one garbage bin at a time

Every Tuesday morning  35-year-old Nosipho Sidinana leaves her home in the township of Daveyton, where she has lived for over 30 years, to go work in the coal and gold mining town of Springs which is in the east of Ekurhuleni municipality in Gauteng, about 50km east of Johannesburg.


Despite unemployment’s rates surging to over thirty per cent in South Africa, poverty and frustrations that have been brought by the Covid 19 pandemic,   Sidinana has found herself in the enviable position of having a regular job and has even become an employer in her own right.

She, like few other individuals across different towns in South Africa, found work in cleaning and servicing dustbins.Not only does she service dustbins but also teaches residents of informal settlements, who don't have waste collection services to separate, recycle and burn the garnish and to keep the environment clean.
Sidinana saw an opportunity when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. She went ahead and registered the spring dustbin cleaning service, a company that provides garbage bin disinfection services to residents in the municipality of Ekurhuleni.

She started the business in 2019 when she was not able to get a job after years of unemployment. She's not a unique case, Sidinana is one of the 7.8 million South Africans who are unemployed.


 A quarterly labour force survey by stats SA recently indicated that the unemployment rate has increased across all nine provinces since the covid 19 pandemic emerged. The official unemployment rate increased by 1.8 percentage points to 34,4% between April and June this year compared to the first three months of the year. The official unemployment rate increased in all the nine provinces, with the largest increase recorded in Northern Cape (up by 4.7 percentage points), followed by Eastern Cape (up by 3.3 percentage points) and North West (up by 3,0 percentage points). Free State recorded the smallest increase of 0.9 of a percentage point, followed by Gauteng and Limpopo with 1.0 percentage points each.

Women are more likely to be unemployed across all sectors except domestic work and community, social services. According to the statsSA, the unemployment rate among women is higher at 36.8 per cent compared to the rate among men which is at 32.4 percent.


The survey also shows that 76.5 %  of those who are unemployed have been out of a job for more than one year. 




Most people, the majority of them women, have resorted to making and finding jobs in the informal sector. 

 Unemployment by gender showed that about 102 million young people were struggling to find jobs, with some being discouraged to even apply. more women were found to be working more than men.

Instead of sitting home and lamenting about this, Sidinan saw an opportunity in cleaning garbage bins. Since then, Sidinana has not only been able to meet her own needs, but she has been able to employ 12 people —ten men and two women—who collect, wash, disinfect and polish the bins after they have been emptied.

“ I also employ students who want piece jobs whenever they are free from school and want to earn some extra money to support their families,” she says. 

One of the employees is 35 years old Bongani Mvinini who was desperate to get his life together after he was released from jail. 


Mvinini credits the dustbin cleaning job which he got six months ago as a “life-saver.” He says the job has helped him focus and redirect his life to stay away from trouble while earning wages and putting food on the table.


Crime and unemployment are inseparable according to numerous studies on the subject. For example, a study looking at youth unemployment and murder crimes in Kwa Zulu Natal found a percentage point increase in youth unemployment increases the odds of murder occurrence by between 1.6–1.8 times. This suggests that South Africa’s labour market could be linked to murder crimes in KwaZulu-Natal and that a social policy aimed at creating jobs for young people could be an alternative way of combating murder crimes in the province.


Another study showed that the low level of education is responsible for the high rate of unemployment and bears a direct relationship with the high rate of crime. In the light of the findings of the study, it was recommended that there is a need for educational programmes aimed at reducing vulnerability to crime and the need for special job creation projects and skills training programmes.


The government has made attempts to assist those who are unemployed by providing a R350 social relief grant which many people find inadequate to support themselves or their families. They opt to look for alternatives through crime and other vices or depend on family and friends, many of whom are in similar if not worse situations.


 “I had given my life to crime and drugs before this opportunity. Immediately I came out of prison I was lucky to meet Nosipho who gave me a second chance. I’ve learnt the importance of hygiene and cleanliness and would like to see it grow,” Mvinini says. 


A grade 11 learner who works part-time Katlego who is also from Daveyton says the job has kept him busy during the school holidays. “It has allowed me to focus on my studies and my goals. Most of the youth in my township are hooked on drugs and engage in criminal activities because they are jobless. They see drugs and crime as their only option of escape from the unbearable joblessness,” Katlego said.

Sidinana got the idea to start the garbage bin cleaning service when she realised that the dustbin is one of the most common points of contact in the home but it was not among the issues that the government was paying attention to in its messaging about COVID-19 prevention measures. 


 “I realised that bacteria and illnesses could be passed from one household to the other through the bins. With the COVID-19 outbreak, I decided to provide garbage decontamination and hygiene services. Bins carry the most bacteria. Garbage bins became a hot spot for contamination because of their point of contact that many are unaware of.


“ People who use and touch the bins are unaware of the hazards of raw waste. We are making the bins safer for everyone, especially children because they are more susceptible to germs and airborne viruses.”


Because of a chronic eyesight degeneration disease, Sidinana was forced to drop out of school at Grade 11. "Doctors told me my eyes were degenerating and that meant I could not see properly and my eyes got tired causing them not to focus, so I had to find another way of getting income because I have no qualifications and cannot get a formal job."

A study looking at transitory and chronic unemployment in South Africa found that these individuals shared highly similar characteristics. They were invariably African female individuals with incomplete secondary education, residing in urban areas of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces.  


Sidinana charges R120.00 (US$8) to clean a bin every month per household. So far she has managed to sign up 250 households at Modder-East and collects the bins every week. She has created permanent jobs for shack dwellers from neighbouring informal areas consisting of semi-permanent shacks occupied by hundreds of people who are moving into the area in search of jobs.


The numbered bins are collected and disinfected weekly. “We register them with their house addresses, service them and later drop them back to our customers later on in the day.

Not only does Sidana wash bins but also runs a soup kitchen every once or twice a week using about R3,000 from what she makes and from donations by business people.


With the help and support of her three friends, she has been able to cook soup, collect bread from local suppliers and dish out fresh and healthy meals to dozens of people. “ We also pack the food parcels when they are delivered and call the beneficiaries to collect and go cook at home.”


Sidinana prepares and serves hot meals twice a week to an estimated 200 families who would otherwise go hungry. “ I wish I could feed the crowds every day, but I do not have enough donations.

“The pandemic exposed the poverty in South Africa. Thousands of families have lost their jobs, leaving the elderly, orphans, street vendors, and the unemployed with nowhere to turn to. I could not stand by and do nothing, “ Sidinana says.
Household food insecurity and hunger have remained ‘stubbornly high’ since June last year, a survey by the National Income Dynamics Survey- CoronavirusRapid Mobile Survey says in its July 2021 report. The survey conducted between April and May this year is the fifth one to be conducted since May last year to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on poverty and hunger. 


According to these surveys, there was a drastic increase in household and child hunger during the initial period of the coronavirus pandemic. The percentage of households who reported running out of money for food has fluctuated between 35%-47% of those surveyed.  “While this is encouraging, this does not seem to have translated into a reduction in household hunger, nor child hunger,” the report says adding that child hunger in April/May this year was at the same level it was during the harshest period of lockdown and before the new grants and top-ups had been put into place.

During April/May 2021, about 2.3 million households reported child hunger in the week before they were interviewed. Of those 2.3 million households, around 620 000 reported that a child had experienced hunger almost every day or every day the week before they were interviewed in April/May 2021.
More than one in three adults said their household ran out of money to buy food in March 2021, whether in the urban or rural areas. This is better than it was in April 2020, but it is still far above pre-pandemic levels.
More women than men were also going hungry as they tried to shield their children from the effects of poverty and hunger by denying themselves the little food that may be available to the house. This is mainly because female-headed households tend to have more adult females and have more dependents, and tend to be poorer. The survey found that female respondents were likely to exert a lower level of control over the household’s financial resources. “That is to say, wage recipients usually have more discretion than economically non-active or unemployed household members over how money is spent, and male earners generally earn more than women,” says the report.

Sidinana’s soup kitchen operates out of one of the community member’s homes in Modder East. Families who come to the soup kitchen are provided with food parcels usually consisting of mealie-meal, oil, sugar, tinned pilchards and vegetables. The food parcels items depend on donations from the local businesses and well-wishers. The food parcels are to support the families in between their visits to the soup kitchen.

Over 200 families from around the Eastvale suburb, the Skoon Plaas and Lindelani informal settlements queue every week to get the food parcels and a hot meal. For some of them, the hot meal served by the soup kitchen is usually the only hot meal they get every week.

Lindiwe  Motha, who is a regular at the soup kitchen says it has made a big difference in her life.

"My grant money is not enough. I buy my monthly chronic medication, feed my unemployed two daughters aged 30 and 19  and pay my bills with just R1890 ($128). We can get free meals from the kitchen because our groceries can only carry us through half of the month."

One of Motha’s daughters lost her waitressing job during the first national Covid19 lockdown, while her 30-year old daughter (asked not to be named)Zindzi* has not been able to get a job for the last 10 years even though she has been struggling to get one.
SheZindzi is among the estimated 3.3 million who are not considered in the unemployment statistic but are a fairly significant problem in SA— the discouraged workers. Since they are not actively seeking employment, they are not considered in the metric. The stats show that quite a number of the population that is not economically active are discouraged workers (people that are able but not willing to work. The number appears to be rising as a percentage of the total economically inactive. This indicates a problem in the labour market. The labour force participation rate —the percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work out of the total population is close to 57%.

On average, a family of four would spend R1800 on food, utilities and other costs. Families depend on child support, grant, foster care grant, disability grant and small businesses like selling achaar, (chutney usually made from pickles unripe green mangoes and chillies or pickled vegetables) fat cakes ( sweet, fluffy and moist deep-fried dough balls) and vegetables. 

Cordelia Zozi, a businesswoman and one of the sponsors of the soup kitchen, said the initiative has allowed her to help those less fortunate than her. 

“ Seeing Nosipho's passion for community and charity work prompted me and my husband to donate between 200-300 food parcels which were given out to families through the soup kitchen,” says Cordelia

The Modder East Ward councillor Ramesh Sheodin said the municipality was not aware of the project and therefore was not providing any support. He however commended the work Sidinana has done so far. “ We are very happy to have learnt about the project and we will be looking into assisting her to roll out the dustbin service to other areas so she can grow and create more employment in Ekurhuleni. We saw a group of people washing the dustbins but we did not know it was such an impactful initiative,”  he says.

Community leader Joyce Mbatha said the community was “blessed” to have Sidinana and hoped that she could get more sponsors to grow and expand the kitchen and recognise Sidinana’s work. “Poverty has become normal here, but with people like Nosipho, there's hope. To be honest, our government has repeatedly failed us. We have been pushed to find solutions ourselves. This project has had a very positive impact on our hygiene and given employment,  ’ said Mbatha.
Globally, women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Women in South Africa have been particularly hard hit as they were much more likely to lose their jobs during the initial strict lockdown phase, and their recovery was slower as the economy started to reopen. Women are also less likely than men to benefit from the COVID-specific government income support measures put in place to help cushion the blow to unemployed and furloughed workers. In addition to these gendered outcomes, there were also inequalities in the home.
According to the NIDS-CRAMS survey in March this year, men’s employment and working hours were back to pre-COVID levels, while women’s employment and working hours remained below the February 2020 baseline figures. “This suggests that the pandemic has resulted in a rise in gender inequality in South Africa, undoing some of the gains of the previous two decades,” the report says.
Sidinana’s garbage disinfection service is providing jobs for urban shack dwellers who are the most likely of all groups to experience intermittent spells of employment rather than sustained jobs. Urban shack dwellers stand out as having experienced the greatest loss of jobs and weakest recovery by March 2021.

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