2017-04-08Johannesburg, South Africa

“Drugs keep us alive” The life on the edge of two ‘blood brothers’ Sharing the same blood is more than a mere metaphor for Thato and Sipho, two brothers and partners-in-crime, among the thousands of faceless victims of the recycling loophole in South Africa. Sharing drugged blood, a common practice also known as ‘bluetooth’ in the community of drugs in downtown Johannesburg, is one of the cheapest and most dangerous kicks for a community of semi-homeless people. Thato (19) and Sipho (23) live in Orange Farm, one of the poorest and most remote corners in the South of Gauteng. They are two of 88.000 informal recycling workers in South Africa and spend most of their time in central Johannesburg, where they sleep in a tin shack or under a bridge. In the early morning, they collect litter (such as paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal) to dispose at the nearest recycling collection point, for a daily wage of R120 to R150 daily. In the afternoon, they gather with hundreds of other recyclers in Nugget Street, where they light bonfires and consume drugs like rock meth and nyaope. “Without drugs I can’t work”, confesses Sipho. “I am a slave of my work, and a slave of these drugs. I think like drugs, and without them I’m like a car without petrol. If they leave me, I will die”. His brother Thato has tried to withdraw, but had no success: “when the drugs are getting out of the body system, the symptoms are very painful”, he says. “You get stomach cramps; headache and you get a block on your body joints. You become dizzy and the eyes get blurry. I can hardly see. I really need medication to get rid of the drugs in my body. I tried on my own once, and ended up in the hospital. I couldn’t move”. According to Thato, most recyclers are encouraged into drugs and pushed into a loop they cannot evade from. Peer pressure also plays a very important role. “This lifestyle is very hard and nobody likes drugs, but the pressure of our work makes everyone starts doing drugs”, he explains. Sometimes, the owners of waste removal companies also encourage the workers to undertake a life of crime and drugs and indirectly sponsor their addiction. Angela, the owner of a scrap company in Fox Street, explains that this system “is a fair way to give them business, so that they can buy drugs. If we stop taking scrap from them, then they will lose the business, which means they need to steal to buy drugs”. The owner of another waste disposal company adds: “I can stop the waste pickers who do drugs, and not take scrap from them, but it should be a decision made by all recycling companies”. Some of the recyclers work in direct contact with drug dealers and drug lords, whom they depend on and who often abuse them and physically harm them. Almost 260.000 drug related crimes were reported in South Africa in 2016. However underprivileged, recyclers can earn a decent living, and several positive cases demonstrate that a recycler can afford a rent and access to food, especially when inserted in a formal and safeguarded system. Their contribution to society is crucial, as waste disposal companies produce approximately 600 million tons of scrap material yearly, of which 6.5 are recyclable. The municipal company Pikitup was allocated an operating budget of R2.1 billion for 2016/17, thus having a tremendous impact on the city’s yearly expenditure. The job of a recycler is sometimes an important answer to unemployment and it has a high impact on welfare, but, up to date, no research was made to describe the entity of the phenomenon. Nonetheless, most of the operators active in central Johannesburg end up caught in the loophole of drugs, which consumes most of their income – starting from as little as R15 for a dose – and forces them to a life of crime and social exclusion. Their luminal state and people’s indifference are both cause and consequence of their divergent lifestyle, however hard working, skilled or motivated they may be. This is also an effect of the stigma surrounding their physical work, in close contact to dirt and scrap materials, which contributes to the spread of diseases and significantly decreases their life expectation. When telling their life stories, most subjects speak of the dreams they had when leaving home, mostly in township areas in the outskirts of Gauteng. They have parents, spouses and children, whom they left to chase after their dreams, before dramatically drowning into a hard and cruel reality. “The demons are controlling us”, affirms Sanele (fantasy name). Njabulo, once a student of civil engineering at Nkangala FET College, is extremely resourceful and talented, but he saw his life quickly destroyed by drugs and now he is also part of the 28 gang. “I’ve lost contact with my family”, he says. “I lost my job, I lost everything. All I need is an opportunity to gain everything back”.

Daily Schedule

2017-05-10Johannesburg, South Africa

Waste Pickers

Left Behind

2017-07-16Johannesburg, South Africa



2017-06-27Johannesburg, South Africa

Can't live without it

Two Brothers

2017-05-08Johannesburg, South Africa

Same Mother


2017-07-09Johannesburg, South Africa

Inside a Bridge which is called Home


2017-07-25Johannesburg South Africa

Hard Life

A Day

2017-05-09Johannesburg, South Africa

Less than a Dollar per day

Sleeping time

2017-09-24Johannesburg South Africa


Friends for life

2017-07-09Johannesburg, South Africa

Drugs Keeps us Alive

More Life

2017-07-08Johannesburg, South Africa

Keeping the Flow

Locked & Starvation


Zianda (44) has been a sex worker for 18 years. ''My family in Zimbabwe doesn't know what I do. What can I tell them now that I have no more clients?'' at Berea, Johannesburg.

Lock Down


Linely Mwimalizani a 37 years old from Malawian National living in Itireleng Squatter Camp, Pretoria South Africa said,” I came from Malawi in 2017 and it’s been 3 years now in South Africa. Where I was staying before, my house burned down and everything was gone but I was able to rescue my passport which has been burned but only few things were visible. I was about to apply for the new passport but the lock down started then couldn’t do it. The border of South Africa closed and I was thinking to go back to my country when my passport will be ready but I’m really stuck as I don’t know when this lock down will be lifted so that I can apply for a new passport and go back home. All the money I kept to apply for the new passport, I used it to survive as I’m not working. I was working as a maid but I lost the job because for the Covid 19 lock down and I don’t have anything on my hand. Neither I have the money to apply for the passport nor do I have the money to eat. I have one kid and my husband left me long time ago so I don’t have anyone in South Africa whom I can ask for help in this difficult situation. One of my neighbors gave me on Maze Meal when the lock down started but now it’s about to finish and I really don’t have no plan where can I get food for my child. I don’t know what to do, whom to ask? There are NGOS who came for food distribution but there are so many different nationalities here and it only covers few so I didn’t able to get nothing. If the situation will be like this then we need to starve as I can see there are no any responsibilities taken my Malawian Government or the South government for foreign nationals so far.

Lock Down


A sex worker complained about the police brutality and their starvation at the time of lock down in South Africa because for no client and no food to eat. There is no any NGO'S supporting them and no support from Government .

Lock Down


HIV and tuberculosis just became a less curable ill in the vast township of Alexandra, South Africa. Phumlani's fight against the two deadly diseases is hardened by starvation on 09th May 2020, while his sister Thokozo is forced to walk a few miles with a newborn baby to get him medications from the clinic. Thokozo no longer have transport money, and taxis only operate in the morning these days. I am afraid of nyaope (deadly drug) addicts, who steal ARVs to make their drugs.

Lock Down


Transgender Sex worker is in deep stress because for total cut down of their business due to lock down for Covid 19 and now she doesn't have anything to work for her living.

Lock down


Ingrid's neighbour is called Cliffton, but everybody in the block knows him as Bob. Today is his 18th birthday. He has been addicted to Mandrax (Dangerous Drug) since the age of ten and he doesn't mind the lockdown. I can still find my drugs, he explains;it's just a bit of a walk to go and get them

Lock Down


Eritta (24) came to South Africa from Malawi in 2015. We are human, and we share the same space in this world as everyone else does. We need food to survive,please help.

Lock Down


Sabonjel Zhanje 21 a Zimbabwean National living in Itireleng Squatter Camp Pretoria South Africa don't have any food as she stand at her kitchen. I'm Sabonjel Zhanje 21 a Zimbabwean National came to South Africa since 3 years for better future and I'm unemployed living with two children and we are really struggling for food as we don't get Covid 19 relief fund like food hampers or the unemployment money from South African Government unless like many South Africans are getting it because we are foreign nationals and there are no any measures which has been taken so far neither by South African Government nor Zimbabwean Government to save us from this lock down. I don't have my husband and I got two kids. My mother who works as a House maid in Pretoria west, South Africa also not working since the lock down started and it is really difficult to feed my two children, I don't have enough food. I can starve myself but I can't see my two children who are 3 and 5 years old to starve. We need help and there are Social development organizations who are only giving out hampers that got South African ID so we don't get anything from them. I‘m begging for food from people to save my two children because without food, my children will die. If I think to go back to my country then also I can't as South African borders are closed and there is no way out. I'm really stuck in between death and life and don't know what to do. I beg please save my children as we are all starving here. I request to South African Government or Zimbabwean Govt, please take care of us, we are all human otherwise we will die.

Lock Down


A mother and her paralyzed child express the difficult time to cope with the lock down having no food to eat and no money for basic survival .

Lock Down


Frustrated residents from Pretoria west South Africa show their anger to the local NGOs after some left without no food hampers.

Lock Down


Many residents from Pretoria west Court street South Africa were left behind and only received cooking oil or rice packet.

Lock Down


Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa: Anne John 22 years old from Malawian National living in Itireleng Squatter Camp, Pretoria South Africa need to starve because there is no any food at her house because for the lock down in South Africa. My husband is unemployed and we came from Malawia in 2019 to look for better life in South Africa. My husband was doing some peace job before the lock down started but he is not going anymore because everything is closed. We are living our life through begging these days because we can't starve and we are not getting help from any organization. Everywhere we go for help, they asked our South African ID , when we said we are foreign national, they said someone will come to help us. So far, no one approached our door and we don't have anything left now besides starving. Few times, we are going empty stomach because for the lock down. We need help, please help us with food .

Lock Down


Gracious Gumbo 22 a Zimbabwean Nationality from Diepsloot Township north of Johannesburg at her tiny house with her daughter spoke about the struggle to survive for the lock down 'I was a street Vendor selling fruits in Diepsloot and when the lock down started then I closed my business. I have two children and I'm a single mother. I came from Zimbabwean two years ago and now I'm stuck here as I can't go back to my country. We are not getting food parcel because we are foreigners. Some NGOS came to our township and they asked us to make a big queue as we need to make two separate queue, there is a separate queue for Foreign nationals and for the South African nationals and before the food parcel reach to us, it's already finish because people first reach to South African nationals and then they come to us but we never got food hampers. I starve for days because there is no food at my house and there is no one in this unknown country to support us.

Lock Down


Lumka's daughter is severely disabled. Under the lockdown, her family is surviving on a grant of 1700 rand.

Lock Down


Places for many but few survive



Due the current lock down in South Africa, many children goes to bad without food. A child stands in front of his house at Diepsloot, Johannesburg