South Africa is a scrap economy. Raw materials are close to our hearts and fingers. Anything that can be scraped, yanked, ripped, unfastened, thrashed or dragged away is fair game.

In Observatory, the workings of the scrap economy are very apparent. After my neighbours so very kindly cobbled the pavement, a scrap-lover prised out the antique steel pipe embedded there to divert run-off water. The cobbles held fast by the pipe are loose and in disarray.     P1010904

Daily, the stones drift away, kicked by the ferrets from nearby Teletech into the street, or simply… who knows. The pavement is crumbling, and the goodwill of the people who invested in it has a hairline crack, perhaps.

Nearby is an elegant series of Victorian-era duplex homes. One morning, a month or two ago, the occupants arrived to discover that the entire pressed-steel facade had been ripped away in the night. Which is what had happened to their neighbours a few weeks before. So I guess they expected it.


The local scrap dealers gaily accept the plunder of the gifted trolley-driving recyclists. The steel apparently goes to China. Much of it came from Scotland – Glasgow and Firth are names I often see pressed into a manhole cover or streetlamp. Everything is temporary. Maybe it will end up back in Africa, at the root of some Chinese development?

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