Where some see waste, we see hidden resources: Recycling building rubble in Griffiths Mxenge, Khayelitsha

Busiswa Nomyayi and her team have been doing weekly clean-ups along Hlontlo Street in Khayelitsha every Saturday. Despite their best efforts among the rubbish lies building rubble that they are unable to dispose of with plastic bags. The women-led group, however, saw this challenge as an opportunity to recycle the rubble and turn it into concrete benches.

Over the last few weeks, the team has been collecting, crushing, and storing building rubble on Chuma Primary School’s property, with the aim of eventually re-using it. On the 22nd of September, Busiswa and her team, with the support of The Umvoto Foundation (TUF), partnered with one of TUF’s collaborators – Riyaadh Ajouhaar, who spent the day at Chuma Primary School, building the concrete benches. The rubble was crushed into tennis ball-sized pieces which were mixed within a matrix consisting of cement, sand, and stones.

The crushed rubble only formed 30% of the matrix to avoid compromising the integrity of the benches. Despite this, it is still a step in the right direction as it encourages taking action, regardless of how minor it may seem. This approach beautifully relates to a quote from Anne Marie Bonneau that says “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

Once the concrete benches were allowed to settle and dry, their respective casts were removed. The next step in the process involves collaborating with Masande Siziba, a local mosaic artist, who will decorate the benches. The design elements for the benches will be carefully planned through discussions with Masande, Busiswa, and the rest of her team. This will ensure that the designs are relevant to the residents of the community.

This project demonstrates that the residents of Khayelitsha are coming up with innovative solutions to revitalize their space and reduce the invasion of waste. This will ultimately improve their environment whilst simultaneously addressing the issue of dumped building rubble that is not only prevalent in Khayelitsha, but in many parts of the city.

The Indawo Abantu Injongo E Khayelitsha initiative, which began as weekly clean-ups in 2019, has transformed into a blueprint for community empowerment and community self-reliance. One that advocates for bottom-up approaches that illustrate the importance of community-led projects.