Whose Frontier is it Anyway? Reclaimer “Integration” and the Battle Over Johannesburg’s Waste-based Commodity Frontier

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25 Citations (Scopus)


The City of Johannesburg’s Pikitup waste management utility is regarded as South Africa’s leader in piloting initiatives to integrate reclaimers (also known as waste pickers) into municipal waste management systems. Yet paradoxically, these integration initiatives are creating new forms of exclusion of reclaimers. In seeking to understand how this could be the case, this article brings Moore’s concept of “commodity frontiers” into conversation with literature on the historical establishment of colonial power relations. The argument is developed in three steps. First, the paper argues that it was reclaimers who extended Johannesburg’s waste-based commodity frontier to establish the new zone of commodification. Second, it contends that Pikitup’s seizure of the reclaimers’ recycling commodification zone is implicitly rooted in assumptions underpinning colonialism. Third, the article argues that understanding Pikitup’s approach to “integration” as colonization reveals that integration is a mechanism of border control designed to eject and dispossess reclaimers rather than include them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-75
Number of pages16
JournalCapitalism, Nature, Socialism
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • colonialism
  • dispossession
  • informal workers
  • recycling
  • Waste picker integration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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