Toilet cleaning extortion attempts leave TR section in a stinky situation

The pota-potas have in the past been used as a symbol to show disdain for poor sanitation services offered to informal settlements. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

Residents of TR section say they have to deal with maggots and faeces smell everywhere ever since the cleaning and collecting of buckets was suspended in October due to extortion gangs.

As the world observed World Toilet Day on Sunday, residents of TR section in Site B, Khayelitsha are living in unpleasant conditions as their bucket toilets remain uncollected for close to one month now. Initiated by the United Nations, World Toilet Day became official in 2012 to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. According to the United Nations, 4.2-billion people “live without safely managed sanitation and around 673-million people practise open defecation”. 

The suspension of services in Khayelitsha occurred after Mshengu Toilet Hire, the service provider, withdrew its services. This withdrawal was in response to extortion attempts, demanding tens of thousands of Rands in October.

“Our drivers first got a letter in June saying they [the extortionists] wanted R50 000, and the company said they won’t be able to pay it and it was quiet after that. Sometime after that, they robbed one of our trucks in TR sections and we took it as it being a random robbery and not linked to extortion,” said a Mshengu Toilet Hire manager, who asked to remain anonymous.

It wasn’t until 26 October when a Mshengu truck was hijacked in Graceland Level 2 and the driver’s phones taken that the Mshengu Toilet Hire company realised these incidents were linked to extortion.

“They called us using the driver’s phone and said we have been disrespecting, giving them the run around for a long time and they want money for a protection fee,” added the manager.

They explained that the demand of R50 000 was a so-called joining fee and that the subsequent monthly fees would thereafter be negotiated.

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“We continued cleaning in informal settlements despite these threats. On the 28th or the 27th [of October] our third driver was robbed in France informal settlement and on that same day, the same robbers as described by our drivers, another truck was robbed by Noxolo Xauka Primary School [in Makhaza],” said the manager.

The container toilet servicing was temporarily suspended following these incidents, and resumed on the 10 November with the help of law enforcement.

“Following a collaborative stakeholder engagement meeting in Khayelitsha on Thursday, 9 November, the extortion-impacted servicing of 1 965 container toilets was reinstated by the service provider on Friday, 10 November, under security protection,” said councillor Zahid Badroodien, the City of Cape Town’s (CoCT) mayoral committee member for water and sanitation.

Chemical toilets ( Mshengu) in Harare, Khayelitsha. Photo by Mzi Velapi

However, despite the services being reinstated in other informal settlements, the TR section continues to not have their portable toilets serviced.

“It has been almost a month now with no collections, and we have resorted to asking amaphara to dispose the faeces for us and they charge R150,” said a resident who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns. “I have resorted to going to W-section across the road, where my sister stays, because she stays in a house with a toilet,” added the resident.

The residents say they do not know what is going on and their ward councillor, Lukhanyo Simangweni has not communicated with the community.

“This is affecting me and my children. We cannot even breathe because we throw away the waste in the drains and they get blocked and overflow,” said Nomvume Mpayipheli, TR section resident.

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Residents are extremely concerned as it is now summertime and the poor sanitation will cause diseases.

“Our children are already sick, because maggots come into the house and cause a lot of flies. Our kids have a rash and we do not know why there is no collection of waste,” said Zukiswa Dondose.

Services in TR section have been withdrawn following the intimidation of workers.

“After we as Mshengu Toilet Hire alongside Law Enforcement, had left, the extortionists arrived and told the team leader of the cleaners that they must never work again and if they do, the extortionists will come to their homes,” said the Mshengu manager.

According to the Mshengu manager one of the workers was asked to resign after extortionist directly intimidated her at her house. Despite the presence of law enforcement, workers have expressed that they do not feel safe, yet they need to make a living.

As part of the Anti-Extortion Campaign under the slogan Enough is Enough! Genoeg is Genoeg! Kwanele! – the city has set up a 24-hour hotline (0800 00 6992) and rewards system as a call-to-action for residents to help the City tackle extortion. Anonymous tip-offs are encouraged 0800 00 6992 or send an email to SSIMS.SSIUReporting@capetown.gov.za

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