Police escort toilet clean-up crew
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Cape Town - In a desperate, 11th-hour move to “provide the services people deserve”, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille deployed 180 law enforcement officials and police officers to protect council staff as they cleaned toilets in Barcelona, Khayelitsha, on Tuesday.
De Lille’s tough stance comes just days after she vowed to stop cleaning work in no-go areas such as Barcelona and Kanana, which have been hardest hit by service disruptions. However, after receiving calls from residents appealing for help, the council would “try one last time” to clean the toilets, this time under police guard.
“Today, I have decided to draw the line. We have been getting calls from the community. Women and children are getting sick. We have to provide the service people deserve,” she said.
But De Lille warned that this type of protection was “not sustainable” as the city did not have the resources to provide armed protection for council staff three times a week.
As she walked through the sludge clad in protective gear and a face mask, De Lille said she also had a duty to protect her staff. The lives of many of them had been threatened.
“This is an extraordinary measure taken under difficult circumstances. It must be emphasised that the threat of violence previously posed against our staff is very real.”
De Lille appealed to residents and community leaders to help the city provide essential services.
She denied the city’s operation on Tuesday had anything to do with the dumping of human faeces at provincial government buildings.
“What is happening here is about service delivery. The ANC Youth League trying to throw around human faeces is totally unacceptable and shows again that they want to make the Western Cape ungovernable.”
De Lille said the court interdict against a group of residents who protested and disrupted service delivery had done little to quell fears that council staff would be attacked if they came in to clean the toilets.
There had been “numerous incidents” in which city staff had been threatened or harassed, with some even being told, “we know you and where you live”.
Sannicare, the company contracted by the city to clean the toilets, has been unable to clean the toilets because of a labour dispute. But the city’s attempts to do interim cleaning work has been thwarted by the attacks on staff.
“We feel responsible because we have the contract with Sannicare,” said De Lille.
Axolile Notywala, of the Social Justice Coalition, said the city was not doing enough to hold Sannicare accountable for the services it was contractually obliged to provide.
“Had the city been monitoring what the contractors were doing, this dispute could have been resolved months ago. Imposing penalties does not mean the services will improve,” he said.
Although Tuesday’s operation went off without incident, residents complained about the city’s efforts.
“We want a flush toilet for our shack. Our children are getting sick because the buckets overflow,” said Noluvo Mpeta, who has been living in Barcelona for five years. She said the city was not keeping up with Sannicare’s cleaning schedule of three times a week, and the toilets were unhygienic.
Lawrence Grootboom, operations manager at the city council, said there was one container toilet for every five households.
“There is not enough space here to put in more toilets, and we would also be taking up housing space.”
Residents were also not keen to switch to the portable flush toilets the council had offered to other areas.
“You can’t change one temporary service for another,” said Lucky Mbili, who has been living in a one-roomed shack for 20 years. He “would not feel right” using a portable toilet in the room in which his family were eating.
Others complained that city officials were taking work away from Sannicare employees, who came from the area.
“We don’t want these people to clean. Who are all these new faces?” said Mpeta.