The picture that I meant to take of Mandla
These are sad times in South Africa. And though I mostly feel quite distant from the terrible violence against our African neighbours, I have been touched by the tragedy in one, odd way.
For the past two years, a man name Mandla has rung my bell every Monday morning to see if I have any recyclables for him. I first saw him digging through garbage in my neighbourhood during one of my jogs. He was collecting white office paper, so I told him to stop by my house, since I always separate the good white stuff, which fetches a higher price. Ever since, he has made a weekly stop here. And as prices have risen for other commodities, I have given him cartloads of plastic bottles and cans in addition to paper.
I had just decided that it was time to write about Mandla on GreenerHouse. I liked the topic, because I believe that developing this kind of relationship creates meaning out of recycling, spares the collector the indignity and effort of digging through rubbish, and could save homeowners trips to the recycling depot. I had even decided that I would call the post “Meet Mandla.” I was going to take his picture and place it on the website.
It was going to be a good week for Mandla, because I had worked on the cleanup crew for my daughter’s matric dance and had rescued bins full of PET plastic bottles, aluminium cans and steel (tin) cans. I had them waiting at the gate for him. When Mandla didn’t show up last Monday, I didn’t think much of it. But now he hasn’t rung my bell for two weeks, so I know that last week was not a good week for Mandla. We had never discussed his origin; we mostly talked about the prices of various recyclable commodities. But it now seems clear that he was a Zimbabwean. In my experience, most of the hawkers who collect recyclables on foot are from other African nations.
I hope that Mandla is safe, wherever he is, and that someone is giving him lots of white paper to sell.