South Africa

South Africa

GroundUp: City in the hot seat over toilet audit

GroundUp: City in the hot seat over toilet audit

Over a quarter of the flush toilets inspected during the Social Justice Coalition’s (SJC) social audit did not work. By Barbara Maregele for GROUNDUP.

This is one of several preliminary findings released to the public hearing for the social audit on the janitorial services in four Khayelitsha informal settlements.

This is the SJC’s third social audit in the area. The janitors are responsible for cleaning, monitoring faults and reporting major faults to the City’s call centre or to their supervisor.

According to the City, there are about 280 janitors in the Khayelitsha area, which includes team leaders and supervisors.

The janitors are required to work five days a week on a six-month contract.

However, since it was introduced in 2012, the working conditions and service delivery of the City’s programme have come under fire. During the five-day audit, which started last Monday, 195 residents and 31 janitors answered questionnaires. The audit was carried out by 90 SJC members.

They were accompanied by a team of independent observers and various other role players throughout the week.

On Saturday, more than 300 Khayelitsha residents, non-profit organisation representatives, Premier Helen Zille and City officials including Mayco member for Utility Services, Ernest Sonnenberg, attended the public hearing held at in the Matthew Goniwe High School in Site B.

Before residents were given an opportunity to voice their concerns, they listened attentively as SJC members presented their findings. This was followed by comments from Zille and Sonnenberg.

The preliminary findings were centred on the quality of the toilets, the quality of the services, equipment and the janitor’s working conditions.

Out of the 528 flush toilets that were intended to be audited, 138 did not work. Nearly half were described by the auditors as dirty or very dirty. A further 82 could not be audited. Only 188 toilets (36%) were confirmed to be clean. More than half the toilets were classified by the auditors as being situated on dirty or very dirty ground.

The audit report found that a third of residents were under the impression that janitors clean one day a week, and a further 18% said janitors never clean in their area. About 14% cleaned their own toilets.

One of the challenges raised by janitors was their struggle to access locked toilet stalls.

  • 30% of the janitors said they leave a note.
  • 26% said they ask residents to unlock the stalls.

The report also found that the distribution of janitors was unequal, leaving certain areas without enough manpower. It states, “On the face of it the total number of janitors (44) employed to clean (888) toilets would give a ratio of 1 janitor to 22 toilets. This would meet the City’s janitor to toilet ratio of at least 1:25.”

However, the report notes, “BM has one janitor for every fifteen toilets and this is less than the expected ratio. BT has one janitor for every 47 toilets and this is nearly double the expected ratio. It is important to note that there are no janitors currently working in PJS.” [BM, BT and PJS are sections in Khayelitsha]

The report also says that janitors do not have the equipment they need to do their jobs. “Janitors are not being trained adequately or being inoculated. Only 13% of the janitors were inoculated against disease,” it stated.

SJC project manager Axolile Notywala said a full report on their findings would be released at a later stage.

“These are the preliminary findings. We haven’t had time to present everything the questionnaires included. A full detailed report will be sent to the City. After three months we will come back to inform you on a way forward,” he said.

Several people voiced their concerns about toilets being built on wetlands, which often leads to blockages with sewage overflowing near their homes.

The City’s Ernest Sonnenberg, said it was “unfair” for the SJC to expect them to give a full response as they had not been given adequate time to study the full report.

“We have questions about how the process of this social audit was conducted. We would like to see a full detailed report on how you got your findings. Having janitors complaining about state of the toilets is worrying. This raises questions about contaminated sampling. We will engage in the preliminary findings and then get back with an official response,” he said.

In response to the preliminary report, Sonnenberg said: “About 82% of informal settlements in the City are on unsuitable land. We are aware of the problem in PJS [Section of Khayelitsha] and officials are trying to sort it out, but there is no space for additional toilets. People need to report these issues as soon as possible.”

Premier Zille added that it was the responsibility of both residents and the janitors to maintain the toilets.

“The janitor services cost the City R60 million a year. We want everyone to have a clean and dignified toilet and everyone has the responsibility to leave the toilets the way you want to find it. Anyone can report problems to the City’s free call centre at 0860 1030 89,” she said.

Zille said vandalism was one of the main reasons for the dismal conditions of the toilets.

Her SA Today column this week deals with the SJC’s social audit. In it the premier states, ” believe many members of the SJC, and most other NGOs, do genuinely care about the plight of the poor, even if they focus their attention exclusively on Cape Town. But, having given the SJC the benefit of the doubt, is it too much to ask that they do the same in relation to the City and Province?”

One of the independent observers, Stephen Law of the Environmental Monitoring Group, said while he supported the process, the lack of communication between the City and the SJC resulted in a “missed opportunity.”

“When the evidence is presented like this, the government should’ve been given an opportunity to go through the documents ahead of time. We should see what can be learnt from the stats collected instead of a finger pointing exercise. Further audits should be more collaborative,” he said.

The City and the SJC promised the community they would return in three months to give a full report back on a way forward. DM

This feature was first published on

Photo by GroundUp.


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