“They’re Homeless, They’re Stinking”: How Stigma Constrains the Impact of Policies Designed to Create Green Jobs in South Africa

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 09:30
Oral Presentation
Teresa PEREZ, University of Cape Town, South Africa
The South African government is working towards producing zero waste by 2022. Concurrently, job creation targets pledge to reduce unemployment to 15% by 2020. Green jobs are seen as a way to meet both these policies, partly via the organisation of informal reclaimers. But the formalisation of ‘waste pickers’ has yet to transpire to the extent that has been documented in other parts of the world. Using Goffman’s theory of impression management, I present a body of evidence to illustrate the interactions between ‘waste pickers’ and residents, from the perspective of ‘waste pickers’. My analysis sheds light on why collectivising waste pickers in South Africa is likely to be met with resistance – by both waste pickers and residents. I build a case using conversations that took place over the course of a year, while I worked as a waste picker with a group who picked from bins on the streets of Cape Town. Waste pickers tended to judge residents based on the contents of household rubbish. Residents’ interpretation of the people that they saw sifting through their bins was based on waste pickers’ appearance and behaviour, viewed from a distance. Overall, the verbal interactions that I witnessed between residents and waste pickers tended to be stilted, awkward and infrequent. As a result, it was difficult for the people with whom I worked to overturn the stigma of historical constructions of race and rubbish. Furthermore, stigma was reinforced by local government polices that exacerbated anonymity and animosity between informal workers and residents. The implication is that the effectiveness of national policies, to reduce environmental degradation and create decent work, are constrained by stigma and local polices that foster an atmosphere of mistrust.