Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

Goudkoppies is anything but a hill topped with gold as its name implies.

Mounds of rubbish, collected from households all over Soweto, characterise this landfill site near Eldorado Park, southern Johannesburg.

It is in landfills such as Goudkoppies that many destitute people, driven by poverty, scavenge for a living.

Trucks brimming with rubbish go in and out of the site, leaving blinding whirlwinds of red dust. Their mission clearly set out, the women and men who rummage through the waste hardly notice the smell of rot from the refuse as they frantically sort out the rubble.

Plastic bottles, paper and scraps of metal to be sold to recycling plants are highly sought-after and are stacked in sacks, separate from the other riffraff.

"Don't go up there," a man dressed in a stained purple shirt warns.

"The people on the hill will attack if you approach them. They might even be offended that you are clean while they're not and throw rubbish at you," warns the man, Jan.

Jan later tells us that he is originally from Kimberley in Northern Cape and came to Goudkoppies out of desperation when he could not find work.

There are many others who flock to the Marie Louise landfill and garden refuge site in Dobsonville, Soweto.

Dressed in tattered clothes and floppy hats that have long lost their splendour, and their fingernails caked with grime, they embark on a frenzied hunt for something to eat or sell.

"We live off the rubbish that you don't even think twice about throwing away," says Tshepo (no surname given).

After years of coming to the site, Tshepo, 28, left his mother and siblings in Meadowlands and built a shack behind the palisade fence that surrounds the site.

"I wanted to study further after matric but my mother couldn't afford it. Instead of resorting to crime I decided to come here. I didn't want to be a nuisance to my mother at home. I can work at my own pace here and I don't have to steal from anyone," he says.

Tshepo collects mostly plastic bottles which he sells to packaging firms. He also sells copper wire. He is sometimes surprised by the "junk" that is dumped at the site.

"Once I found a Pentium 4 computer. Can you believe it my sister? It worked perfectly!

"I took it home and my brothers and sisters are still using it," he says.

Life on the dump is a game of luck, says Tshepo.

"Some days I pick up chicken portions, vienna sausages and other cuts of meat thrown away by some companies. I also cook some of the vegetables that you throw away. If it's still fresh I will go back to my shack and cook it."

Tshepo says he sometimes makes enough money to support his struggling mother at home.