Top urban news, trends and reports curated for the world’s city leaders. Edited by David Hatch

Joburg’s ‘street surfers’ critical to waste management

Street-wise collectors of recyclables, known as 'street surfers' in Johannesburg, can be seen whizzing around the city on small trolleys. (Jeff Harrisberg/

Johannesburg’s “street surfers” are a unique blend of trash collectors and street-wise daredevils. Kim Harrisberg reports for that the hawkers can be seen whizzing around the city on small flat trolleys used to stash recyclables.

With their shabby clothes and signature facemasks, mohawks and balaclavas, the trash pickers are an unforgettable sight. They also provide a critical link in Joburg’s waste-management chain. Their efforts ensure that some of the 108 million tons of waste generated annually by South Africa is repurposed rather than destined for landfills, the article says.

Many of the surfers are so poor that they own only the clothes they wear. The collectors take their hauls to dumps and recycling centers where they exchange it for modest amounts of cash. “They depend only on themselves,” Benjamin Mokgohloa, a dump site manager, tells UrbanAfrica. “Instead of just staying on the streets, they wake up early every day and work incredibly hard,” he says.  

Urban Africa

More from Citiscope

Latest Commentary