Siqalo portaloo cleaners protest

Portaloo cleaners and supporters from Siqalo informal settlement blocked Vanguard Drive on Friday morning in protest over not receiving inoculations against diseases. Photo by Daneel Knoetze.

Daneel Knoetze

24 October 2014

Protesting portaloo cleaners from Siqalo informal settlement blocked Vanguard Drive during rush hour traffic on Friday morning. They claim that their health is being compromised by inadequate protective equipment and the failure of their employer to provide them with inoculation against disease - a requirement of their contracts.

Thandokazi Ntshofu has worked as a portaloo cleaner in Siqalo since March last year. She has a supervisor’s position, but works alongside 21 of her colleagues - collecting portaloos door to door, transporting them to a depot in Borcherd’s Quarry, cleaning them and returning them to the households. There are 2,000 such toilets in Siqalo. The workers are on shift three days a week, and get paid R120 per day, Ntshofu says.

“It is difficult work, because we deal directly with human faeces,” she says.

“There are ways to protect yourself to ensure that you do not get sick. But, the work is dangerous and if everything is not in place you can catch an illness easily.”

In the early hours of Friday morning the workers scattered dozens of portaloos along a 200 metre stretch of Vanguard Drive, adjacent to Siqalo. They claim that inoculations against disease, due in July, did not take place, though these were stipulated in their contract with Silver Solutions, the contractor to the City of Cape Town. They also complain that there are not enough face masks to go round and some of the gloves issued by the company have holes. Attempts to raise these grievances with Silver Solutions management have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Dozens of portaloos were dumped on Vanguard Drive, and the road was closed during rush hour morning traffic on Friday. Photo by Daneel Knoetze.

“We have gotten rashes, runny stomachs. What is worse is that we often have to go to the clinic because of these illnesses. If we miss a day of work, we do not get paid. Even if we have a slip from the doctor to prove that we were sick,” Ntshofu says.

Vanguard Drive was closed Friday morning as the workers and supporters from the community toyi-toyied. Police monitored the protest, but there were no outbreaks of violence. Protesters emptied portaloos onto the tarmac - giving a sudden potency to the lingering stench of human excrement.

“This is what we see and smell everyday. It’s disgusting,” a protester shouted.

When Silver Solutions’ owner Nothemba Ncoliwe arrived to meet the protesters, she was surrounded and confronted. After half an hour of negotiations, Ncoliwe told GroundUp that she had agreed to organise inoculations for her staff by tomorrow, and that she would pay them for the three days that they refused to work this week - provided the cleaning schedule was brought up to date. She said she had not known about the grievances, and the protest had caught her by sursprise.

Dozens of Siqalo residents joined the protest in support of the workers.

“This has been frustrating for us, because these portaloos smell very bad and need to be cleaned regularly,” said resident Kakaza Sakhumzi.

“When the workers get sick or stay away in protest it is an issue that affects all of us. That is why we will stand with them.”

Axolile Notywala, spokesman of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) which has done two social audits of toilet services in Khayelitsha this year, said that disputes between Silver Solutions and its workers regularly affected waste removal and sanitation services in townships and informal settlements around Cape Town.

Photo Two: A protester dumps the content of a portaloo, human excrement, on Vanguard Drive near Siqalo. Photo by Daneel Knoetze.

In one of these audits, a report on the janitorial services for communal flush toilets in Khayelitsha, the SJC found that janitors employed by the City experienced similar challenges to those faced by Siqalo’s portaloo cleaners - no inoculation against disease and a shortage of personal protective equipment. The audit report notes provisions in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act which protect the rights of employees to work in an “environment that is safe and without risk to his or her health”.

“It is the whole community that suffers when contractors do not comply with their responsibilities to their workers,” Notywala said.

“It is something that we have experienced frequently with outsourced refuse collection services in Khayelitsha, where disputes result in rubbish not being collected for days or weeks at a time. The challenge is that the service delivery agreements between these contractors and the City are often not available online as required by law. So, the community and workers do not always know what the contractors’ responsibilities are.”

The Municipal Systems Act allows municipalities to enter into service delivery agreements with private companies that are “legally competent”. According to the Municipal Finance Management Act, these agreements need to be uploaded on the municipality’s website.

Brett Heron, acting Mayco member for Utility Services, said: “The City requires that all statutory requirements are met by its contractor and this forms part of the tender. Silver Solutions is not a contractor of the City’s but a subcontractor of a contractor (Sannicare). The City has no legal agreement with Silver Solutions.

“Non-compliance should be reported to the Department of Labour and the employees should be encouraged to follow this route. In addition, the City will address the matter with our contractor directly. If any aspects of the City’s contract have been compromised, action will be taken.

“The City relies on the community to be the eyes and ears on the ground, but would like to reiterate that protests that involve damage to City property are illegal and that the available legal channels to communicate with the City should be used.

“Neither the contract with Sannicare or their contract with Silver Solutions constitutes a Service Delivery Agreement, therefore the City is not obliged to make this available on their website.”