Waste collection companies abandon contracts following shooting and threats

Fears for workers’ safety has caused two companies to stop collecting rubbish in the Philippi area

By Sandiso Phaliso

14 June 2023

Waste is piling up in parts of Philippi after two waste collection contractors have pulled out following shootings and extortion threats. Photo: Sandiso Phaliso

Extortion and intimidation has resulted in two waste collection companies contracted by the City of Cape Town withdrawing their services from the Philippi area over the last two months, resulting in rubbish piling up and residents resorting to illegal dumping.

Wastemart and Ithalomso are contracted to collect rubbish and clean alleyways in Kosovo informal settlement, Philippi East, Browns Farm, Samora Machel, and Crossroads, but have suspended their services to the areas due to safety concerns.

On 25 April, a Wastemart employee was shot dead while on duty in Philippi East. The company pulled out of the area the same day.

Ithalomso is contracted to collect waste door-to-door from informal areas such as Kosovo. It stopped servicing informal areas in Philippi at the beginning of April this year after a syndicate demanded extortion fees to protect the rubbish collectors.

On its website Ithalomso states it has a five-year, R48-million contract with the City of Cape Town for the provision of community-based refuse collection and area cleansing in informal settlements.

Wastemart has been subcontracted by a company called Just Breeze, who had obtained a short-term three-month contract running from 1 April to 30 June, according to Mayco Member for Urban Waste Management Grant Twigg. He declined to give the value of the contract, as it “could encourage further extortion attempts”.

Twigg said the short-term contract was “an interim arrangement due to delays in finalising a long-term (five-year) contract for implementation on 1 July 2023”.

He said the five-year contract starting 1 July to collect waste from formal areas in Philippi was awarded to Wastemart, but they have since declined the contract due to threats against their staff.

“Barring unforeseen delays, the new contractor for waste collection in the area should begin on 1 October.”

For the time being, the City was using vehicles from other areas to provide services in Philippi, “under heavy police escort”.

However, he said there were “capacity challenges”.

“The City has worked hard to clear the refuse using City-owned vehicles from non-contracted areas. The backlog has since been cleared and we are currently working day-to-day as scheduled.”

Last month, Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis joined City waste removal staff to show solidarity and thank them for their efforts to sustain basic services in the Kosovo informal settlement and broader Philippi East amid violent threats and extortion attempts affecting refuse collection.

Twigg confirmed Ithalomso has also suspended its services “due to threats against contractors’ staff”.

In the meantime, residents in the affected areas say accumulating rubbish due to delays in collection was causing a health hazard, and stank. Additionally, because delays in refuse collection led to wheelie bins becoming full, people were resorting to illegal dumping.

Ntandazo Vabaza, a resident from Kosovo informal settlement, said it took two to three weeks before garbage was collected and the area cleaned.

“Ithalomso has stopped collecting the green refuse bags from the households because they don’t feel safe as a result of the protection fee. We understand that, but the City workers only came once, three weeks ago, and they never returned,” said Vabaza.

Simthembile Bhenu, from Samora Machel, said the uncollected wheelie bins were a “health and safety concern”.

Bhenu said there were maggots crawling in and around the bins. “It is an eyesore and the smell is unbearable.”

“For many people it has become normal. But when I visit other areas, which are cleaned regularly, I realize where I come from is a pigsty. It is not like we don’t want to complain, but there are no platforms and channels because there are no community meetings,” said Bhenu.

Another resident from Kosovo, Anele Tshabiso, said: “Kosovo literally looks like a rubbish dumping site.”

“There are rats and flies all over the place. On a sunny hot day the smell is something else.”

Tshabiso said there was an increase in illegal dumping around the informal settlement.

“Children are getting diseases from the exposure of waste in our own backyards,” he added.

Wastemart has not responded to numerous efforts to obtain comment.