Garbage picking as a strategy for survival : a case study of a sub- sector of the informal sector.
In the past few years there has been a dramatic increase in research dealing with the informal sector in South Africa. This research is often motivated by academic curiosity as well as a growing concern over poverty and unemployment among South Africa's blacks. It has increasingly been suggested by academics, businessmen and government officials that the informal sector be developed and encouraged in appropriate directions in order to provide employment opportunities. This thesis is a case study of a group of people who are officially unemployed, and who work in the informal sector in order to survive. The economic activity they are involved with, represents a subsector of the informal sector namely, garbage picking. The first question that is addressed in the study deals with the problems inherent in the conceptualisation of the informal sector. There are many interpretations of what comprises this sector, depending in part on the stage of development that has been reached by the local economy and on the theoretical perspective used in the analysis. There are also many perspectives on whether the sector is independent and autonomous and on the extent to which it is intergrated into the economy of a country. Chapters 1 and 2 contain critical examination of the literature dealing with these aspects. In chapter 3 the characteristics of the informal sector are studied. Several case studies from different parts of the world are examined. Chapter 4 examines the marginality concept in relation to the garbage pickers with a view to determining the extent to which these people are marginalised in society. Attention is then directed towards the particular case study. The characteristics of garbage picking and the people who do this work, as well as the conditions under which they work, are examined in chapters 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the thesis. The results show that there is very little potential for the garbage picker to improve his/her position within the informal sector. The garbage pickers regard formal sector employment as their only way out of their present position and, given present circumstances, it seems that their view is correct. However, since the likelihood of their finding formal wage employment seems very limited, alternatives were examined and it seems that within the garbage industry the potential does exist to create formal sector jobs for the pickers. This potential can, however, only be realised once the garbage industry recognises this and re-organise itself to employ these people on a permanent basis.