Communal toilets overflowing with faeces due to extortion

About a month ago, Sanitech workers were held at gunpoint and extortionists demanded several thousand rand

By Mary-Anne Gontsana

30 October 2023

Most of the toilets in RR Section informal settlement in Khayelitsha have not been cleaned since 27 September after extortionists held Sanitech workers at gunpoint. Photos were supplied by residents.

Over 200 toilets in RR Section informal settlement in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, have been overflowing with faeces for nearly a month now after the cleaning company was threatened by a local extortion syndicate.

The City of Cape Town’s contractor, Sanitech, was forced to halt all operations in the area after cleaners were held at gunpoint while working in RR Section.

According to Sanitech’s regional director, Riaan Swartz, their crew was left traumatised after the armed extortionists demanded that they pay “several thousand rand in order to work in the area”.

Soon after this incident, Swartz said the criminals then phoned their office and threatened to kill Sanitech workers if they returned to work without paying for protection.

“As a reputable service provider to the City of Cape Town, Sanitech has never and will never engage in paying bribes. The safety of our employees is of utmost importance to us,” said Swartz.

He said the incident was reported to the Council and the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) extortion unit.

Until the matter is resolved and the area is deemed safe for workers to return with police escort, the toilets will remain dirty and residents will be forced to relieve themselves outside or in buckets.

A janitor and resident at RR Section, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were now also without a job because of extortion and the situation is only getting worse.

“Toilets are dirty and overflowing. Residents have resorted to cleaning some of the toilets themselves and locking them to prevent other people from using them. Other toilets are locked because they are just too dirty.”

Another resident said, “It is disgusting because we are talking about plastic toilets which are warm inside. Now imagine a dirty toilet, it is hot outside and inside as well. What must be happening to the mess inside it? There are people living with disabilities here who need these toilets.”

Sanitech has not been able to return to clean these toilets due to threats by criminals.

According to the resident, people walk a distance to access toilets in another informal settlement, while others asked those with toilet keys to use the few clean toilets.

Ward councillor Khayalethu Gxasheka said that residents approached him to help them get chemicals to clean some of the toilets themselves. “I have reached out to the City to supply us with chemicals. The situation is really bad. We have tried with the community leadership to intervene but it’s difficult and we are living in fear.”

The City’s Mayco Member for Water and Sanitation Zahid Badroodien said the extortion threats were received by Sanitech on 27 September.

“After the incident, a meeting was held with the ward councillor, service provider and community members. The matter has been reported to the City’s Safety and Security teams to ascertain a solution to this issue, so that the service can resume while ensuring the safety of the workers on site,” said Badroodien.

He said Sanitech was responsible for providing chemicals as it formed part of their servicing contract with the City and that the ward councillor needed to follow up with Sanitech on this request.

Earlier this month, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis launched a new city-wide Anti-Extortion Campaign.

As part of the campaign, the City set up a 24-hour hotline (0800 00 6992) and rewards system to encourage residents to help tackle extortion in their communities.

A statement by the City said demands for “protection fees” were impeding both basic service delivery and major infrastructure projects. These projects included housing, roadworks and transport.

According to the City’s spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo, the City could not reveal how many calls the hotline had received to date as this information was “sensitive”.