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Business Maverick

After the Bell: WastePreneurs and the tricky business of public-private partnerships

After the Bell: WastePreneurs and the tricky business of public-private partnerships
The streets of Johannesburg are paved with litter, not gold. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

South Africa, in case you haven’t noticed, has a new plan to fix itself. 

The old plan was that the government would lead the country into a bright new future, directing the some-or-other department to adopt strict policies to do that-thing-over-there, while the-other-department would gather data on this-other-thing, and that-thing would be the responsibility of this-or-that-parastatal, which would be responsible for some-of-but-not-all-of-the-other-stuff. And it would all take place according to the plan. 

And what was the plan? The plan was the National Development Plan (NDP), which was a blue-print for the “overarching vision” for Vision 2030. I’m not making this up. This is an actual press release issued in 2018 by Jeff Radebe, who was the minister of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at the time. The talk then was about global “imperatives”, the “Africa Agenda”, and the UN “Sustainable Development Goals”.

Funny how often Capital Letters were used in those days to designate Important Things, which included Mandates and Medium-Term Strategic Framework, and the Nine-Point Plan. I’m not making that up either – a Nine-Point Plan (capitalised) actually made it into a press release.

Radebe, famously part of the SA Communist Party, despite his family being enormously rich and huge beneficiaries of mining BEE, loved this stuff. Communists tend to. The private sector was barely mentioned in his dictates and five-year plans. Doesn’t this language seem strange today? The idea that government would could or should “lead economic development” now engenders only guffaws, finger-pointing, and recriminations.

What’s the new plan? Partnerships. The outstanding contribution to politics of the administration of Cyril Ramaphosa is the idea that the public and private sectors should join hands to address, in a spirit of cooperation, the country’s not-so-small problems. So how is that going then?

The simple answer is not well. It could be that we are just in the early stages and that as things develop this new solution will start bearing fruit. It’s preferable to the old plan, which I could have told you was doomed from day one. The public and private sectors do have an intersection of interests – the both want the economy to grow – and that seems like at least a potential basis for the new plan.

But it’s much more complicated than you might think. As an example, I present to you the important issue of the Pirates Waste Reclaimers. This is not a crucial problem that will bring down governments, but I think it is a good illustration of the cacophony of interests that are at play when government and the private sector do try to intersect usefully.

What happened here is that the members of the Pirates Club in Greenside, Johannesburg, solid middle-class suburb – had the idea of starting a social enterprise effort with waste pickers. About eight years ago, a separate organisation called WastePreneurs was initiated and the famous Pirates Sports Club allowed the organisation to use a portion of its grounds for its work. It helped that the city-designated Greenside Pickitup waste disposal area was alongside the Pirates Club.

The effort has been a fantastic success. It has also just been closed down, but more on that later. About 100 WastePreneurs scour the waste in the suburbs and separate out what is reusable. It’s all weighed and the WastePreneurs are compensated for their effort based on its weight at the Pikitup site. Pirates help by providing waste cages, trolleys, ablution facilities, and so on.

The Johannesburg City Council initially loved the idea and an “addendum” was signed by the city to support WastePreneurs. Soon, the Pirates project became a pilot project for other areas around Johannesburg. Until two weeks ago, the Pirates WastePreneurs initiative removed close to 70 tons of waste every month – including non-recyclable material. It’s just incredible. The effort now has a few full-time staff members and some of the WastePreneurs have actually found permanent jobs with waste companies.

This all took place after the DA-led coalition took over the Johannesburg City Council in 2016. Now, of course, we are back to an ANC-led coalition, which somewhat ironically has sided with the very nimby local residents’ association to close down the initiative. The problem is that just opposite the Pikitup site, across Victory Road, is a large open area, where some of the WastePreneurs (and others, one presumes), have set up shacks. The good residents of Greenside and Parkhurst have been very happy up till now with the project, but what they don’t want is a huge squatter camp suddenly cropping up as it has just down the spruit at the Field and Study Centre.

There is another thing. The land opposite Pirates, called the Old Bowls Club, where the squatters are now living has been handed out in a tender just this week to a group that includes BEE development company Nthoese Development for a mixed-use development with a total anticipated investment value of R100 million. Steve Jourdan of the Adopt-a-Project initiative, which runs the initiative, told me that the club would actually like the Old Bowls Club to be developed, but the city needs to do its job too and find accommodation for the people.

Are the closing of WastePreneurs and the Old Bowls Club tender linked? We don’t know, but it does signify a different philosophy of intersection between public and private sectors. The old system under the DA council was based on a confluence of needs and opportunities. The ANC-controlled council has a new interpretation of the system, seeing public-private partnerships as the means by which the city sets BEE tenderpreneurs up in business.

And here we have the start of the new complexity because if this conundrum has an echo on a much larger scale, we need only look to SAA. The complication in public-private partnerships starts with government trying to effect its mandate and the private sector trying to make a profit. They need to be carefully structured and thought out by people on both sides who know what they are doing. 

What you can’t have is the government ignoring the private-sector component by trying to pretend it’s still totally in charge, and/or the private sector riding rough-shod over public needs and claiming all the upside. I still get the feeling that in many cases, the government might be trying to win the war it lost during the government leadership phase by changing its strategy ever so slightly (and losing all the upper case letters) while the private sector is abusing the now much-weakened public sector.

Tricky. Tricky.

Good investing,

Tim Cohen

In response to this article and a press release issued by Adreach, four residents’ groups issued this response:

We, as the Emmarentia Residents Association (ERA), Greenside Residents
Association (GRA), Parkhurst Residents and Business Owners Association
(PRABOA), and the Parkview Community Policing Forum (CPF), are responding to
the Press Release distributed by Adreach, and the 24.03.2024 interview with Mr
Jourdan of Adreach on ENCA, regarding the recent closure of the Wastepreneurs
site being run on a section of public open space at the Pirates Sports club in
Greenside.
Prior to addressing the accuracy of the Press Release it is necessary to record that
we were only made aware of the closure of the site after it happened. Contrary to the
claims made by Mr Jourdan and Mr Fisher of Adreach, we have not been actively
lobbying anyone at the City for the site's closure. We have received feedback from
Parkview SAPS via the CPF that there was a spike in crimes involving the theft of
copper pipes, as well as business and residential burglaries which prompted SAPS
to start monitoring that site. Subsequent visits to that site with other stakeholders led
SAPS to close it on the basis of its non-compliance with various items of law relating
to land use, and the reclamation of solid waste.
The press release and interview treat the local residents' concerns as over-blown
and resident frustration as “misdirected” in the face of the intentions behind the
initiative. However, the Adreach Press Release overlooks the fact that the
Wastepreneurs site was always unlawful: their activities are contrary to the zoning,
and the National Environmental Waste Management Act amongst other items of
legislation; Adreach failed to get necessary permissions or to meaningfully consult
with affected residents before setting up the site; and they have failed to manage the
process as promised. As much as we support initiatives aimed at promoting micro
enterprises and empowering and uplifting people, these must be lawfully compliant.
Adreach, SDI and Wastepreneurs are not above the law. The ongoing problems
associated with Wastepreneurs site are not simply technicalities to be glossed over.
We draw attention to the further inaccuracies and misrepresentations contained in
the press release sent out.
The press release claims that Wastepreneurs (WP) is Pirates Club’s Community
Development Initiative. This appears to be a post-facto framing of the project that
Adreach established on a portion of the land that Pirates leases from JPC. Over the
years this was clearly positioned as an Adreach project, not a Pirates Club initiative.
At the Pirates AGM in 2020, it was minuted that the Club Council did vote in favour
of evicting Wastepreneurs from Pirates site as this had put the Pirates lease in
jeopardy.
More recently, Adreach has moved the Wastepreneurs initiative to fall under their
SDI Trust platform (this is clearly still an Adreach project, with 4 of the 5 trustees of
SDI being Adreach managers/directors).

While there have been significant ongoing complaints about the Wastepreneurs
(WP) operation since it started, we were struck by the many responses received
during the petition process in November 2023 about the illegal occupation of the
Parkhurst Bowls Club. Responses referenced a great deal of unhappiness and anger
about the presence of WP. These emphasized the interconnected nature of the
presence of WP and the growing number of wastepickers living in public open
spaces across the road from the WP site and the growing social, health, human
rights, and environmental catastrophe that this has caused. The press release
appears to suggest that the presence of the Wastepreneurs cite has reduced the
utilisation of the spruit for sorting, collecting and disposing of unusable solid waste,
where in fact the opposite is true.
As a follow up to the petition we initiated meetings with Pirates, the Wastepreneur
site manager and Mr Jourdan, a trustee of SDI. At a meeting on Feb 23rd, 2024 (a
week before SAPS closed the site) Mr Jourdan assured us that all the necessary
licencing, permissions and zoning rights were in place. We asked for sight of these
documents but have not yet seen these. In addition, we have never seen the
addendum signed by COJ formalising WP as a pilot site, or the contract that Mr
Fisher refers to in the press statement as creating obligations for COJ to support
this.
At the Feb 23rd meeting it became clear that many of the claims made by WP/SDI
regarding the “professionalism” and management of the programme do not reflect
reality. Despite assurances made at community meetings, on their website and in
their PR statements, SDI and WP are not providing accommodation for their “official”
Wastepreneurs, these people are not being given branded bibs and trolleys, and
they have not been registered with or vetted by SAPS. The controls in place appear
inadequate. The lone site manager cannot properly control the waste reclaimers or
the waste streams that the site accepts.
WP/SDI were unable to explain how they could be so sure that the official
Wastepreneurs were not amongst the illegal occupiers of the Bowls Club and were
not selling recycling on behalf of the informal wastepickers. In addition to this, the
Bowls Club is one of two large encampments proximate to the site.
The Wastepreneurs site has facilitated the collection of waste and unlawful waste
activities on the old bowling club site, which is clearly linked to Wastepreneurs albeit
not formally or wilfully. This is patently evident from the piles of waste being
collected and by ongoing observations and experiences. The growth of the informal
occupation at the bowling club site correlates with Wastepreneurs arrival rather than
failed tender processes.
Adreach makes the threat that pollution would be made worse if WP is closed. This
ignores the existing huge pollution of the spruit, stormwater drains, public space,

pavements and bowls club property by ongoing waste sorting, as well as toxic fumes
emanating from burning of waste in these areas. We believe these activities are
directly linked to a secondary trade via Wastepreneurs and that the deterioration of
these spaces that does not justify the waste recycling benefits.
The surrounding areas all have municipal recycling which means that the
encouragement of wastepicking activities serves only to undermine formalise
processes implemented by the City of Johannesburg.

Waste reclamation and reducing waste to landfill is a worthy goal, but our view is that
the multiple negative impacts of this operation for the wider area in which it is located
grossly outweigh the benefits. If a total cost benefit were done, it would be clear that
the Wastepreneurs site has led to spiralling costs that have to be borne by
thousands of people living in surrounding suburbs. These costs include
environmental pollution, degradation, crime, impact on the quality of life of
neighbouring residents, economic losses to businesses in the area, reduction in
property values and deterrent to investment. The costs associated with an initiative
of this nature have been borne by the surrounding community in circumstances in
which the formalised public engagement required for a change in land use was never
initiated. It is doubtful that a rezoning process would ever allow for the
implementation of a waste reclamation site in the heart of a residential suburb.

Judith Ancer, Chair Greenside Residents Association
Ayanda Mjekulu Chair Emmarentia Residents Association
Mike Rosholt Chair Parkhurst Residents and Business Owners Association
Geraldine Connell Parkview Community Policing Forum
Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hennie Booysen says:

    Very poor article Tim, but credit to you for publishing the response from the Residents Associations.
    Your article was poorly researched and quite derogatory towards the residents of Parkhurst and Greenside – your bread and butter (and Daily Mavericks’) in terms of readers. You turned what was an unlawful situation from the beginning into a political issue. That is poor journalism and you can do better.

  • Catherine Greenside Resident says:

    I am really disappointed in this article. I doubt any residents in the surrounding suburbs were interviewed or Mr Cohen may have a more balanced opinion in this article. The law had been broken but the residents associations are described as NIMBY for objecting to matters that affected their safety and property values. There has also been a significant environmental impact, with toxic rubbish being burnt and the Spruit has become very polluted.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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