My name is Mlungisi Mavimbela and I am 34 years old and I make a living collecting recyclables in and around the streets of Tembisa, which is where I live with my grandmother.

Dear Sir/Madam

My name is Mlungisi Mavimbela and I am 34 years old and I make a living collecting recyclables in and around the streets of Tembisa, which is where I live with my grandmother.

You might not see this as I walk past you every day with my trolley, but I am mentally disabled. I was born this way. I am perfectly healthy and fully functional, and I do not need to take medication.

Living with a disability makes it so hard to find a job and jobs that do actually accept someone like me don’t really offer me the freedom I want. This is how I ended up collecting recyclables in my community. Being a trollypreneur ensures that my grandmother and I do not sleep on an empty stomach. It’s a hard job, but one I really enjoy.

Because I love my job so much, I wake up every morning at 5am, prepare myself and walk to my workplace (Tembisa Self Help centre which is about 5km from home every Monday to Sunday. I’ve been doing this for three years now and I have never missed a single day’s work, even during the coldest winter months. There are too many people counting on me to get the job done. I have a daily routine that I follow. I fetch my trolley and start my day off at the clinic where I collect boxes and plastic which I ask the clinic to save for me for collection. The workers there all know me because I am always smiling, and I ask them nicely to help me to recycle because it is my job.

Upon loading my trolley at the centre, my next stop is the primary school in Tembisa near our centre. I actually love going to the school because there is a lot of paper to collect and that means I get to get more money at the end of the day. This also means my grandmother and I can buy our monthly groceries and a few little luxuries.

Recycling is not as hard as some people think. It is as easy as separating your recyclables from the rest of your trash. It just takes a little effort to make a big difference. It is thanks to the people in my community who recycle as well as other trollypreneurs like myself, that our neighbourhood is cleaner. Because of our collective efforts, fewer bottles, plastic items and paper end up in the rubbish dumps, in rivers or on the side of the road.

But I must let you know that not everyone sees us in the same way as we see ourselves.  Some people worry that we are there to take things. Some people look at us and can’t seem to look past their ideas that we are thieves, hobos, look-out crooks or just dirty and inconsiderate people, who scratch and dent their cars with our trolleys. This is not true.

I want to say to these people that we are just like them. We are trying to make a living so that we can support our families. If our trolleys get in your way or make you feel uncomfortable, I apologise on behalf of my fellow collectors, as this is never our intention. We all need to be aware of each other and be kinder to one another. 

Our goal is to earn a sustainable living and to look after our families – and to make South Africa a cleaner and more beautiful place for everyone. You can help us to achieve this by committing to recycling in your own homes. When you do so, please also remember to keep your paper, plastics and bottles clean and dry. Please also separate recyclable material from your other trash as it makes collection and recycling easier.   

I would also like to thank places like Mpact Recycling who purchase the recyclables from the many buy-back centres around Gauteng, in turn it allows the buy-back centres to buy the recyclables we collect. Without their assistance and support, we would not be able to feed our families.