Since the lockdown began, African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) has been teaching reclaimers about COVID-19 and also giving out food parcels to them and other community members who are in need. ARO has two teams that are working with the government to hand out food parcels. The first team deals with the national departments of Trade and Industry and Small Business Development. The second team deals with the local municipality of the City of Johannesburg (CoJ). ARO works with reclaimers in the following areas: Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Kagiso, Soweto, Braamfisher, Dobsonville, and Krugersdorp. Mantoa Khoali is a committee member of ARO and an organiser who has been working with the CoJ in the second team. She said: “Its hard to see reclaimers suffer like this because they used to work for themselves and their families. It’s good that the City [of Johannesburg] gives them something but the problem is that it’s only for them, while their kids are suffering and have nothing to eat back at home.”
“I’ve seen many people suffering and they end up threatening us, while others are even kneeling down and begging for food. It’s heartbreaking to see and know that the food has been counted for reclaimers only, while the community is starving,” she said.
A reclaimer by the name of Teko Mohapi who stays in Doornfontein said: “we were not ready when this pandemic started. All the scrapyards [also known as buyback centres] are closed and we have nothing to eat. If it wasn’t for ARO giving us food parcels we would have been dead by now because of hunger.”
Steven Leeu who is an ARO organiser and also works with the city in the second team said: “reclaimers appreciate ARO. They now see the importance of having an organisation that represents them on the ground”. He reported that reclaimers are very vulnerable because often councillors don’t care about them.
It has been a painful experience seeing people fight for bread and even wanting to kill each other for food during the lockdown, but it’s been good to see the reclaimers starting to be recognised, through the efforts of ARO as a democratic and independent organisation. As the ARO team, we will keep pushing the spirit of ubuntu and togetherness at all times because we can’t survive without the community and need to share with them.
Eva Mokoena is a reclaimer, and the Chairperson of the African Reclaimers Organisation.
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