When the City of Cape Town announced that portable flush toilets were going to be given to residents in informal settlements, people got excited, says Sibusiso Zonke, an ANC Youth League member in Khayelitsha.
But when they realized they were just a more sophisticated version of the bucket toilets, people got angry, said the 23-year-old who lives in BM informal settlement.
He says although the City told them they were a temporary measure, informal settlement residents believe it’s just a delaying tactic and proves the City has no intention of providing houses and proper water borne sewage.
“We’re tired of empty promises, we said the City must collect them (take them away), but they keep on bringing them back, that why we’re taking them back to them,” said Zonke.
As a result faeces has been flung by ‘poo protesters’ somewhere in the City a number of times each week since faeces was first poured on the Provincial Legislature steps on June 4, with protests ratcheting up to occur almost daily in the last two weeks.
Zonke said once the portable flush toilets are full, residents place the detachable containers next to the road for cleaning contractors to collect and this is where the protesters get the containers of sewerage which they empty at public buildings, the N2 or even, on June 25, at the Cape Town International Airport terminal.
He said sometimes they simply carry the containers as they are or sometimes cover them with a black bag.
Hygiene is not something they worry about, simply washing their hands after the protest. The smell which so bothers others is also something those living with portable flush toilets are used to.
“We’re used to the smell, faeces does not smell bad to us anymore. We have been living with toilets inside our houses for a long time. They are not healthy and bring diseases to us. At home the potta-potta is kept in a kitchen where we cook, during the day we keep it outside the house.
“We have been complaining about these potta-potties for a long time with no answer from City of Cape Town. They clean them only when they like. We throw them (the containers) on to the N2 then leave them there for the City to collect them.”
He said dumping faeces as a means of protest started when employees from City contracted cleaning company Sannicare joined illegal strike demanding a wage increase. The employees asked community leaders and residents to support them in their strike and after weeks of sewerage not being collected, residents in informal settlements in Gugulethu threw the waste on the N2. The modus operandi was picked up by PR councilor and ANCYL leader Loyiso Nkohla and former ANC PR counciler Andile Lili who led a handful of protesters who dumped faeces at the Provincial Legislature.
He said many of the informal settlements are adjacent to the N2 so protestors simply carry the containers there. If they need transport to get to a target they pay for the use of someone’s vehicle with money raised by the community, or carry the containers onto the train. However, public transport is risky as revealed in June when 184 protesters were arrested at a train station in Cape Town while on their way to dump faeces in the city centre.
The ongoing faeces fracas has become a unifying movement among informal settlement residents, with
Residents in the informal settlements of Enkanini, TR, Taiwan and BM in Khayelitsha, and Barcelona, Kanana and Europe in Gugulethu, have joined the fray.
Decisions to target public or state infrastructure are taken at community meetings among informal settlement residents in Khayelitsha or Gugulethu.
In Khayelitsha, TR, Taiwan and BM residents meet together while Enkanini acts autonomously.
In Gugulethu, residents from all three protesting informal settlements work together.
Cellphone communication through applications like Whatsapp, are the means protesters use to spread the word on decisions taken at community meetings.
Community leader Bongani Ngcombolo, from Barcelona informal settlement, said all issues are discussed at general meetings.
“The meetings are called by community leaders, we discuss community issues. If residents feel the free way is the (best site to protest) they go to N2 and throw faeces,” he said.
Should transport be needed to get to a chosen site such as the Civic Centre, private cars are hired to transport a handful of foot soldiers, with money for transport paid out of a kitty to which residents contribute amounts starting from R10.
Through this means of community contribution, thousands of rand has been raised in order to hire a lawyer to represent former ANC councillor Andile Lili and PR councillor and ANC Youth League member Loyisa Nkohla, and five others facing charges relating to the dumping of faeces in the Cape Town International Airport terminal on June 25.
Residents also raised money for bail for the seven accused, which was set at R2000 each, a total of R14 000.
He said the Khayelitsha and Gugulethu areas decide independently when and where to protest but everyone was protesting for improved service delivery.
In Khayelitsha, following a decision to block the N2, most of the protesters gather at one house and stay awake through the night until proceeding to the freeway at 3am or 4am.
There appears to be certain echoes of the ‘80s underground, including police busting in on meetings looking for the ringleaders who, as one of their bail conditions, are not allowed to participate in illegal protests.
At present over 200, mostly ANCYL members, are facing charges of public violence related to the poo protests.
In order to slip through the police’s grasp, protesters organise themselves into small groups and converge on a chosen protest site from different directions rather than march en masse.
The movement has grown to a point where a faeces protest task team has been chosen.
The task team spokesperson, Sithembele Majova, said they are facing “massive force” from the police who often burst into community meetings looking specifically for Nkohla or Lili.
Nkohla said he was informed that police are looking for him and Lili at a meeting in Site C, Khayelitsha.
“We cannot be prevented from attending meetings, there’s nothing saying we cannot attend community meetings. Police must be clear of something: meetings are called by community structures and they have a right to call those meetings, I do not know how they‘ve become illegal,” said Nkohla.
Lili said they’re planning to get a court interdict against the police.
He said they were warned by the court not to attend illegal gatherings or protests but community meetings were not illegal.
“We are still planning our protest and we will continue until we get what we want,” said Lili. – West Cape News