Living from the Dustbin

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By Fifi Rhodes

WINDHOEK

It is Thursday morning and sleepy residents of Windhoek are woken up by the roaring sound of the refuse removal truck on its routine round – keeping the city clean. The jobless are already wide awake and prowling the streets.

These jobless people search for empty cool drink and beer bottles they sell at bottle stores. They also search for other valuables and usable items like discarded kettles, toasters, even old clothes and blankets, which they repair and resale. Others, however, sorely scavenge for food just to fill their tummies.

The incessant barking of dogs from the neighbourhood also awakens those that need to rise for the day’s commitments.

“Most of you do not understand poverty. My children cry themselves to sleep every night with pain in their empty bellies if there’s nothing on the table. I can’t go and steal, but rather opted to collect from the dustbin to feed them.

Is that a sin? Why are you harassing me?” asks a 31-year-old father of four, John Cossack, from Katutura as he scavenges through rubbish bins in Windhoek’s affluent suburbs to make a living by collecting plastic and other useful material, which he then resells to provide for his family.

Thursday is refuse removal day around some suburbs and for John and many other unemployed the day is manna from Heaven.

As the reporter announces his presence at this ungodly hour in Afrikaans, John gladly opens up and explains his daily struggle for survival.

Chasing the garbage truck from as early as 05h00 every Thursday John and many other jobless residents mostly from Babylon like Paul Gariseb, Frans and Absalom say it is tough out there more so now that winter is approaching.

“My brother, I have children that need to eat. I can’t find a decent job, so there is a way although it comes by way of searching through the dirt.”

Paul, a 31-year old resident of Greenwell Matongo says he was a driver doing deliveries but was retrenched and cannot find a job.

Today, he is certain that he will go home with at least some money. “After selling my bottles, I will earn N$90 that will see me through till the weekend.”

About the dangers posed by dogs and the possibility of collecting poisoned food, the dustbin scavengers say they are afraid but it is better to fill their stomachs than to starve.

“If a dog bites me, I can go for treatment. I am not scared. I use a stick to scare away vicious dogs. Most of the animals are kept behind fences, which makes it easier for us,” says Gariseb.

“Hunting for food from the rubbish bin is not nice, but sometimes we are lucky people put aside old food,” he says.

Poverty is a lack of those things that determine the quality of life, including food, clothing, shelter and safe drinking water, but also the opportunity to learn and to enjoy the respect of fellow citizens.

Poverty may affect individuals or groups, and is not confined to developing nations. Poverty in developed countries is manifest in a set of social problems including homelessness and the persistence of “ghetto” housing clusters.

David Moore, in his book The World Bank, argues that some analyses of poverty reflect derogatory and sometimes racial, stereotypes of impoverished people as powerless victims and passive recipients of aid programmes.

The 2007 World Bank report “Global Economic Prospects” predicts that in 2030, the number of people living on less than the equivalent of $1 a day will fall by half, to about 550 million. An average resident of what used to be called the Third World will live about as well as do residents of the Czech or Slovak republics today. However, much of Africa will have difficulty keeping pace with the rest of the developing world and even if conditions there improve in absolute terms, the report warns, Africa in 2030 will be home to a larger proportion of the world’s poorest people than it is today. However, economic growth increased rapidly in Africa after 2000.

The World Bank’s “Voices of the Poor,” based on research with over 20??????’??

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