Vulnerability, risks and coping: a case study of female street waste pickers in Mashaeng, Free State, South Africa
As a result of high levels of unemployment in South Africa, many unskilled people are forced to resort to a variety of income-generating activities in the informal economy, such as picking waste left on streets, which makes them vulnerable and involves risks. Collecting and selling recyclables has become an income-generating activity, as it presents employment for many of the unemployed around the world. However, in the midst of trying to survive on the fringes of the informal economy, street waste pickers are faced with unfavorable working conditions, characterised by marginalisation and indecency. The study described in this article adopted a qualitative research approach and investigated 20 female street waste pickers. It explored the challenges encountered by street waste pickers in Mashaeng, in the Free State province of South Africa and how they coped with them. Resilience theory provided the theoretical basis for the study. The study acquired information through semi-structured individual interviews. The data that the interviews generated were analysed by means of thematic analysis. The study findings revealed that street waste pickers are subjected to risks in the context of their work. Moreover, they lack the skills and education that would enable them to secure better employment. The authors recommend that transformative social policy be formulated in the interests of waste pickers. Furthermore, community-based approaches that ensure street waste pickers' social inclusion should be prioritised.