It may not seem like much to some, but the money Gugu Yengwa makes from selling food to waste pickers at a Pietermaritzburg dump has helped pay for her son’s university education.
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa – Yengwa has been selling food and cigarettes outside the New England Road dump site for 23 years.
Her son, Sanele, 23, is now in the final year of a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, thanks to his mother’s efforts. He hopes to graduate next year.
Yengwa, 45, was among those who supported the waste pickers when they protested last month against moves to stop them plying their trade at the dump.
She sells her chicken stew and beef curry, with uphuthu and rice, for R20 to truck drivers (because they have a job) and for R15 to waste pickers (because they are unemployed).
She buys her ingredients in town and says she makes about R300 a day. She says she has made friends with several of her customers over the years.
While she was being interviewed, delivery truck drivers hooted, some calling her by her name.
“To some [R300] might sound like money for cosmetics, but to my son it goes a long way in his university fees. With that I am able to be a responsible mother to my son. He knows where the money comes from,” said Yengwa.
She wakes up at 05:00 and cooks for her unemployed husband.
“I make sure that when I leave home my husband has something to eat.”
She has two sons, the younger one still in high school.
“I am not educated and I don’t want my children to experience the same thing. That is why I fully supported the waste pickers when they protested not so long ago.
“They were fighting for their rights and I would have been affected. I was behind them and I will always be behind them no matter what happens.
“I consider myself lucky because the municipality granted me the permit to sell my food here. I’m also lucky because there is no other person who sells in this spot, so there is no competition.”
Yengwa said she grew up seeing people going to the dump site.
“To do something different I decided to sell food instead of being a waste picker. I survive because of those waste pickers.
“I have also developed a good relationship with some of the people who come to deliver or throw things away. Some of them leave their items with me to sell for them. I have been there for a long time so they trust me.
“I am a happy mother and I am proud that I have produced a graduate from something that is looked down upon.
“My son will be the first graduate in the family because of the money from the waste pickers.”