“It’s no one’s dream to clean bucket toilets”

| Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik
Nolizwi Ngcane is one of the portable toilet cleaners who was honoured in an event in Khayelitsha yesterday. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Thandekile Madikane tells his children that he works at the airport. He does not want his children to laugh at him for the job he does. But his job is vital. He is part of the city’s operation to clean portable toilets.

Yesterday in Khayelitsha Nkanini’s informal settlement, 32 toilet cleaners received some gratitude for a job that is often difficult and unpleasant. The Western Cape Department of Correctional Services, as part of Mandela Month, honoured the cleaners at an event with much cheering and singing. As part of the event, staff from Pollsmoor Prison and Bosasa Juvenile Centre helped collect 50 portable toilets to put on a truck that would take them to be cleaned. They were joined by pastors from various churches.

Some of the participants in the event found out how difficult a job the cleaners have, because they were unable to carry the toilets. Pollsmoor prison area commissioner Ntobeko Mketshana said that carrying a portable toilet “is not child’s play. It it is a very challenging job.”

Holding his back, Mketshana said he feels for the people who carry the portable toilets every day. “I can feel my back. It is very hot. Collecting these [toilets] is not an easy job. If I feel back pain just for doing it one day, what about the people who carry them almost everyday?” asked Mketshana.

One of the pastors, Xola Skosana, talked about the importance of affirming the dignity of people who clean bucket toilets. R1,250 was collected for the cleaners to buy something for themselves.

Cleaners expressed gratitude for the event. Some talked about how they do not tell their families what kind of a job they are doing because they are ashamed of it, and because most people look down on them.

Mketshana said the toilet cleaners have showed that a person does not have to commit crime to make money. However those who are doing the job for a living said, they do it because they have no other options.

Sinoxolo Nkunka works as a supervisor said that she started cleaning porta-portas in 2009. She said it was not easy. The situation forced her to take her two kids to Eastern Cape because some of the kids were laughing at them. “It used to bother me, but then I knew that I was not committing crime, I’m only working for my family.”

Nkunka now earns R180 a day. She said at first she used to get less than R100 a day but she managed to feed her family and build a home for them in the Eastern Cape.

Mbongeni Tikipeni (35) has been cleaning portable toilets for the past three years. He said his fear is of when his two children get old and realise what kind of a job he his doing.

“No one dreams of cleaning bucket toilets, but we are doing it to earn a living. We are not robbing people. We earn an honest living even though other people look down on us,” he said.

Tikipeni was happy with the Department of Correctional Services initiative. He said it gives him strength to know that there are people who don’t look down on his work.

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