E'Plazini: A Home for the Waste Pickers

Hard work is what defines this series by Johannesburg based artist, Mpumelelo, who gives a deep insight into the world of trash collecting in the Dryhook area near Devland in Soweto, South Africa. The artist documents the waste pickers’ daily journey to communicate both their individual stories and how their work is more important than it would appear.

South Africa is one of the most disparate countries on the planet, with unregistered work serving as one of the main drivers of its economy. It is estimated that a whopping 85,000 people make their living as refuse collectors (called waste pickers in SA; a term reminiscent of vultures) and they manage to recycle more than any other group within the towns and cities- subsequently diverting waste from the already overflowing landfills.

These trash picking Gods are here to teach us that there’s more to the eye than what’s left behind. Segregated and hard-working, the Gods’ daily lives consist of finding amongst the waste things that could still prove useful after being carelessly discarded. But the most important of their endeavours is in the recycling; where waste is once again converted into something valuable. And the true merit here is that all of this is achieved while working outside of the established systems. Through these images the artist asks: what counts as work, what work is ‘important’, and who is truly dignified in their work?

The value of hard work has lessened in recent times and we need to work on again increasing it to appreciate that those who take care of us and keep society functioning are nothing short of Gods: Gods we often forget to worship…