“Maria – Queen of Cardboard”

Tasmi Quazi

Inner-city Cardboard Recycling Project member. Picture by Thomas Ferreira, cited in Mark Carras' article.
Maria at Palmer Street where she sells her cardboard to “middle-agents”. Picture: Thomas Ferreira.

On observing informal cardboard recycler Maria Vilakazi at her workplace, Journalist Pralini Naidoo has written a fascinating article for the environmental magazine, the Green Times on 10th February 2012. Maria is a participant of the Imagine Durban Cardboard Recycling Project which was implemented by Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) for just over 2 years.

Pralini describes some of the workplace dynamics faced by Maria in the past and present as she says:

Her territory is a labyrinth of hidden refuse rooms bathed in charcoal light. Masterfully she flattens a mountain of discarded cardboard boxes into an efficient bundle. Later she will haul her treasure to a buyer a few roads away and earn her income for the day.

…We used to be chased by policemen, and we had to hide our trolleys”, says Maria. That was before the assistance of Asiye Etafuleni, an NPO who together with Imagine Durban and Sustainable Cities, Canada, have been trying to improve the conditions of informal recyclers. “Our long term plan is to change the infrastructure of the city to incorporate the informal recyclers by providing specific collection areas” says Tasmi Quazi who facilitates this project. “Urban design and planning needs to proactively accommodate informal workers”.”

On a personal level, Pralini mentions Maria’s inspiring character:

Meeting Maria is a total eye-opener for me. Despite her 12 hour, seven day week and a host of tragedies including the deaths of five of her six children, in Maria there remains a strength of character and maternal wisdom which makes her a natural leader.”

Read the rest of the wonderfully descriptive article here, and another article here which captures the comments of formal businesses who benefit from Maria’s services. Furthermore, to view a brief snapshot of Maria’s working life, click here.

Maria photographed by AeT intern Dennis Stols
Maria outside “Workshop Shopping Centre” where she services numerous formal businesses by sorting their cardboard recyclables. Picture: Dennis Stols

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