Durban loses a legend: Informal Recycler Afrika Ntuli

Tasmi Quazi

On the eve of 31 May 2016, renowned Durban informal recycler, Afrika Ntuli, shockingly passed away after being knocked by a motor vehicle at a pedestrian crossing near his place of work in the Central Business District (CBD) precinct. The news of the accident was conveyed by the police to fellow informal recycler, Maria Vilakazi, who was on his contact list on his recovered cell phone from the site of the accident – and since then, the news of the tragic event has spread and devastated all those that knew and loved the legendary informal recycler of the last 29 years.

1st of March marks Global Recyclers' Day. In 2014, the inner-city cardboard recyclers of Asiye Etafuleni's Imagine Durban Project from Palmer and Pine Streets celebrated by counting their total contribution to recycling in one day. They contributed to one and a half tonne of recycling which amounts to saving 25 trees. All in a day's work! Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

Afrika Ntuli (far left) and Maria Vilakazi (centre) celebrating Global Recyclers’ Day on 1 March (2014)  with their contribution of 1.5 tonnes of recyclables which amounts to saving 25 trees – with staff from a local recycling company. Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) came to know of Afrika Ntuli since 2010, when it was commissioned by the Imagine Durban Project to implement its Cardboard Recycling Project. This Project sought to test interventions that would enhance the livelihoods of the prejudiced and marginalised activity of informal recycling in Durban’s inner-city and CBD.

An elated Palmer Street Recycling group on hearing that their Project won a Sustainable Architecture Award. — with Patric BhakaBhaka Ndlovu and Tasmi Quazi.

Afrika (far left) celebrating with fellow recyclers and AeT staff on hearing that the Imagine Durban Cardboard Recycling Project won a Sustainable Architecture Award (October 2012). Photo: Mxolisi Cele.

Afrika and a group of up to 15 men and women cardboard recyclers were located around the landmark International Convention Centre (ICC) and Workshop Shopping Centre precinct making a living by collecting and selling cardboard recyclables generated by the industrial, retail and office activities there. Afrika emerged as a well-respected, liked and established informal recycler amongst his fellow recyclers and by the surrounding businesses – and was naturally elected as the lead representative of the informal recyclers in the area.

Afrika with the then Priority Zone Officials operating in the ICC precinct, with whom he and the other recyclers worked collaboratively with to deal with any irban management challenges (March 2012). Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

Afrika with the then Priority Zone Officials operating in the ICC precinct, with whom he worked collaboratively to deal with any urban management challenges (March 2012). Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

For the past 29 years, Afrika was managing the waste recyclables of numerous formal businesses, mostly within the Workshop Shopping centre. He was not only respected and popular amongst the formal business sectors which he serviced, but he was a consistent champion of women and youth that entered the sector as he took a number of them under his tutelage and negotiated on their behalf to work as informal recyclers.

Clicks management at the Workshop Shopping Centre with informal recycler, Afrika Ntuli, who sorts and removes their cardboard and plastic waste recyclables. Picture: Tasmi Quazi

Clicks management at the Workshop Shopping Centre with Afrika, one of many retail stores that he serviced (April 2013). Picture: Tasmi Quazi.

As a result of his influential status, he was seen as a key figure in helping the South African Waste Pickers’ Association (SAWPA) organise informal recyclers in Durban. He was also a key feature at eThekwini Municipality’s annual Sustainable Living Exhibition from 2010 onwards as he educated and entertained visitors to the exhibition – by colourfully regaling his personal and the collective story of informal recycling in Durban.

The star of the Asiye eTafuleni Projects stall at the 2013 Sustainable Living Exhibition. Read more here: https://aet.org.za/2013/09/promoting-sustainability-inclusion-informal-workers-sle-2013-2/ — at Durban Exhibition Centre.

Afrika, the star of the AeT Projects stall at the 2013 Sustainable Living Exhibition. Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

This event fatefully follows last week’s story on informal trader leader, MaDlamini, who was a recent victim of a road accident in Warwick Junction highlighting the vulnerability of informal workers operating from public spaces to occupational health and safety hazards. Afrika Ntuli’s case again affirms the same point, albeit in the most devastating of ways – through the senseless loss of his life. A former project collaborator to AeT commented: “Losing him to a taxi accident is really so sad and it says so much about the lack of proper management of road use. This is just not how we should be losing people.”

Afrika after weighing and selling 25 record breaking bundles of cardboard recyclables with sweat dripping from his face onto his t-shirt on a humid Durban morning. He sold just over 1 tonne of salvaged cardboard. Afrika wore his Global Alliance of Wastepickers T-shirt to honour Global Recyclers' Day on 1 March 2012. The T-shirt highlights the devastating socio-economic impact that incinerators would have on the livelihoods of informal recyclers. Photo: Dennis-Lee Stols.

Afrika after weighing and selling 1 tonne of cardboard recyclables (March 2012) seen wearing the Global Alliance of Waste pickers t-shirt which highlights the devastating socio-economic impact that waste incinerators would have on the livelihoods of informal recyclers. Photo: Dennis-Lee Stols.

For AeT, Afrika was instrumental in organising the participants of its Cardboard Recycling project and symbolised the vital contribution of the informal recycling sector to Durban’s green economy – as someone who had grown with and served the burgeoning local recycling industry since the late 1980s. His social, environmental and economic contributions within Durban are invaluable and will be remembered by many, and this is just one commemoration of his immense legacy. Siyabonga kakhulu Baba Afrika (we thank you Father Afrika).

Palmer Street Recycler Leader, Afrika Ntuli with visitors to the Asiye eTafuleni Projects stall with Afrika’s signature fist pump honouring informal workers’ contributions everywhere. Photo: Tasmi Quazi. Read more here: https://aet.org.za/2013/09/promoting-sustainability-inclusion-informal-workers-sle-2013-2/ — at Durban Exhibition Centre.

Afrika with visitors to the AeT Projects stall at the 2013 Sustainable Living Exhibition with his signature fist pump honouring informal workers’ contributions everywhere. Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

2 replies
  1. Demetria Tsoutouras
    Demetria Tsoutouras says:

    Thank you for your post. I am so sorry to hear this news. I met Afrika briefly in 2011 during a visit to Durban for COP 17. He talked to us about the challenges of working on the streets of Durban as an informal recycler. My condolences to his friends and family.

    Reply
  2. Bruna Gillham - Bright Site Project Durban
    Bruna Gillham - Bright Site Project Durban says:

    It is indeed with a heavy heart that we learn of the untimely death of Afrika Ntuli. He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered by our students who worked with him and the other cardboard recyclers.

    He leaves a remarkable legacy and his genuine smile and infectious laugh will be remembered by many.

    To his family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, we, the Bright Site Project Durban extend our sincerest condolences. May his soul rest in peace.

    In sympathy,

    Ann Petty, Barbara McLean, Bruna Gillham, Buyi Moreki, Kogie Perumaul, S’bu Zulu, S’the Mxhakaza, Lungile Mhlanzi, Ntombifuthi Mnisi, Ntombizandile
    Krakra, Khayelihle Mthethwa,Andile Ndlovu, Simphiwe Hlela, Bheka Nxumalo, Senzekile Manqele, Phumla Ngubane,
    Lindo Magoso, Sifiso Mbuyazi, Lungisani Dlamini, Khaya Mngomeni, Lindani Nkosi and Liso Nobanda.

    Reply

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