As the cleaning strike continues in some parts of Khayelitsha, residents have turned against each other. Rubbish is piling up and streams of foul water pose a serious health hazard. And those who try to clean in front of their homes are often attacked.
A group of former cleaning workers, whose contracts expired at the end of February, are refusing to let other people clean the mess and have vowed to put pressure on the City of Cape Town until their demands are met.
They claim they have not been paid for more than a month and were meant to receive a bonus at the end of their contracts. They are now threatening to disrupt traffic and other services if their demands are ignored.
On Friday last week, they gathered on Mew Way, watching for people who tried to clean the areas.
Former employee Babalwa Bhambatha said they had worked for two contractors that had not paid them.
“We worked for one contractor, but we were not paid. We suddenly saw another contractor for which we worked for a month before we were told our contract has come to an end,” she said. “We understood that part. But we were waiting for our wages, but nothing has come to us until now. The strike is about that. They only need to pay us our wages, and we are off. Otherwise, these areas will remain dirty.”
Parts of Site C, in Taiwan and TR Section areas have also been without water for toilets. Some of the toilets leak, aggravating an already bad situation.
Another protester, Simamkele Marhanqwana, said the new workers were welcome to work, but only once the former employees had been paid. He accused the City of not intervening – it awarded the tenders to contractors, so should be able to discipline them, he argued.
Protester Thembisa Zikhali said with the high cost of living, everyone expected to be paid for their work.
“It cannot be right not to be paid. We have worked for the money; it belongs to us, not to contractors. All they have to do is to do the right thing. We will continue to put pressure on them until they pay us,” he said.
The City has condemned the protests and the disruption of services. It accused the group of holding the community hostage to further personal interests.
Mayoral committee member for utility services Ernest Sonnenberg said neither the City nor the contractor owed the workers any money. He said in a gesture of good faith and a bid to resolve the issue, the contractor had offered the workers a small amount, which they accepted. He accused the group of working with some community leaders to have their contracts extended and causing anarchy.
“City staff, who attempted to clear the dumped waste, despite an escort from law enforcement, were stoned and forced to withdraw from the area, while on Monday April 18 the contractor’s supervisors were abducted, held hostage and assaulted by these ex-workers,” he said.
Mr Sonnenberg said the renewal of contracts was not possible due to the provisions of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) under which they were employed. He said the programme required new workers to be hired periodically. The rotation of workers had also been stipulated in the tender to share economic opportunity in the community.