Battle over Barcelona’s Buckets

GroundUp Staff with assistance from Tebello Mzamoand Fergus Turner
Aftermath of Barcelona protests. Photo by Mihle Pike.
GroundUp Staff with assistance from Tebello Mzamoand Fergus Turner

Residents of Barcelona informal settlement are living a sanitation nightmare. The company contracted to remove the bucket toilets, Sannicare, has been hit by industrial action and no resolution is in sight.

Residents of Barcelona informal settlement, near Gugulethu, are forced to use buckets as toilets to relieve themselves. The buckets are becoming filled to the brim with waste. They stink and are a health risk. The buckets are not being serviced regularly because the people who normally take the waste out are on strike. Residents, not willing to suffer the situation any longer have emptied full waste buckets into a canal near the Barcelona shacks (see photographs).

The first time many Cape Town drivers would have heard of the Barcelona settlement was last Monday when the N2 was blocked by striking workers for hours in both directions between the city centre and airport.

According to Mongameli Mbili, the chairperson of the Barcelona Community Committee, more than 10,000 people live in Barcelona. There are about 200 bucket system toilets that service thousands of houses.

GroundUp has learned that the City of Cape Town (City) gave a company called Sannicare the tender to service the bucket toilets in November 2012. The tender, expiring in June 2014, binds Sanicare to service and clean the bucket-system toilets in 16 informal settlements including Barcelona, Gugulethu, Nyanga, Lavender Hill, Strand, and Khayelitsha. The toilets are meant to be serviced three times a week. Servicing includes the removal of waste around the toilets.

Confusion characterises this conflict. On the employer’s side, Sannicare is an obscure company that is extremely difficult to contact. Serious allegations have been made against the company. But there also appears to be little separation of representation of the striking workers, some of whom live in Barcelona, and the residents themselves, and some important facts supplied to GroundUp reporters trying to get to the bottom of this story were incoherently and inconsistently explained. From the various sources we spoke to it is apparent that communication between Sannicare and its employees is very poor.

GroundUp’s extensive attempts to get hold of Sannicare have failed. The company has no website, or at least none that we can find, and its telephone number is not available through standard directory searches. Even the spelling of the company’s name is unclear with some media reports spelling it Sanicare and others Sannicare.

In one report the company’s spokesperson, Colin Priem, is quoted saying the strike was unprotected and workers had been dismissed. He is also quoted saying that Sannicare workers went on an unprotected strike in November last year and were dismissed.

In an SABC report, Sannicare’s CEO, Sakkie Masjiedt, claimed that workers ignored a High Court order to return to work. Masjiedt is quoted saying, “Yes, they were dismissed because they went on an unprotected strike… But we are collecting buckets and we are using casual labour from the areas. So we are busy.”

An employee of Sannicare who asked not to be named explained that he and other employees went on unprotected strike in February, demanding an increase in pay. He explained that Sannicare had recently taken over the work of servicing the bucket toilets from another company called SANAS. Workers claim that Sannicare has both cut wages and not honoured promises to increase wages. The employee claimed that “Sannicare employees were promised a salary increase within one month.” The employee said that when they had been working for SANAS he was earning his salary on a weekly basis. “Things started to change after Sannicare took over,” he said. He claims Sannicare started paying them per month without first consulting them on the matter or informing them about the changes.

According to a statement by the Social Justice Coalition, former Sannicare workers say that they were paid R268 per day by SANAS. Sannicare cut their pay in half. An agreement was reached that the pay would be raised back to R268 on 1 March. By 25 March the pay had yet to be increased and workers wrote to Sannicare saying that if the pay was not increased they would begin striking on 2 April. Further letters were sent on 4 and 7 April but Sannicare did not respond.

“This situation began in February this year and it has been going on for three months now”, said one of Sannicare’s employees. “We are on strike because we want Sannicare to increase our pay”, he said. The 59 year old employee has nine children to support and is badly affected by the situation. He explained, “I stay home here in Barcelona all day long and I have kids to support but there is no money coming in.”

Mbili said that the Barcelona Community Committee had five meetings with the municipality about the situation. He claims that the most recent meeting, held on 2 May at the Cape Town Civic Centre, was unsuccessful. Mbili says this was because the municipality did not want to discuss the wages of workers employed by Sannicare, which is the cause of the strikes [presumably workers and community representatives were at the meeting - editor]. Mbili says the municipality wanted to rather negotiate the Sannicare tender. According to Mbili, workers were not interested in negotiating the contract and demanded that the City pressure Sannicare to raise wages.

Mbili said, “The municipality assured us that they would pass the matter on to the mayor, but she has not responded yet.”

According to Bongani Ngcombolo, a resident of Barcelona township, “The City has failed the people, I say this because the company got the tender from the City. The company had cash flow problems after strike action [presumably the one in November 2012 - editor]. They asked for three months to get back on their feet and had to cut payments in half. It has been six months now.”

In the meanwhile, the City has assigned staff and workers to collect the un-serviced buckets. Ngcombolo said, “The City is collecting but they often come late and by the time they arrive, the buckets are too full. Five families share a bucket which is about 30 people and the toilets are overused, becoming very full.”

The City has condemned recent attacks and threats made on its staff in the Barcelona. The attacks happened after the City took over the cleaning duties of Sannicare. The City has also welcomed a Cape High Court interdict that restricts former employees from interfering in the efforts of City to “provide essential services to the affected areas.”

Premier Helen Zille has also stepped into the debate. On 20 May Lefuno Numushungwa tweeted, “There’s hopelessness in the air. poor ppl are angry and hungry that’s y they resort 2 violence.” He also wrote, “We use violence 2 stimulate govt action.”

In response, Premier Zille tweeted, “It should stimulate the appropriate police action to stop you.” The premier also tweeted, “No-one needs to use the “bucket system” in Cape Town any longer. The City has offered free portable flush toilets and service to them all.”

Ngcombolo explained why matters are not so simple. He acknowledged that the City wants to install portable flush toilets in Barcelona that are used in parts of Khayelitsha. “We do not want that because it is not very private.”

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TOPICS:  Economy Local Sanitation

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