Mother City’s ‘turd force’ reveals its smelly secrets

2013-08-11 14:00

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Irate Khayelitsha residents explain what got the potta-pottas flying in Cape Town.

It’s the question Cape Town’s so-called “poo protesters” get asked most frequently: how can you handle the smell?

Sibusiso Zonke smirks.

“Faeces do not smell bad to us any more. We have been living with toilets inside our houses for a long time.”

Once their protests are done, Zonke and other Khayelitsha residents simply wash their hands.

They are trying to figuratively wash their hands of the loathed portable flush toilets that are at the centre of the residents’ war with the City of Cape Town, too.

Zonke (23) is an ANC Youth League member. Despite his politics, he was as excited as his neighbours and residents from other informal settlements when it was announced that they would be given portable flush toilets.

But when they realised the new technology would be, according to them, just a more sophisticated version of the bucket toilet system, they grew angry.

Zonke takes us to a neighbour’s home to Khayelitsha’s BM section to demonstrate how the “potta-potta” – residents’ nickname for these contentious commodes – is used.

“At home, the potta-potta is kept in a kitchen where we cook; during the day we keep it outside the house,” Zonke explains.

People discard their “potta-pottas” – at least the section that contains faeces – at the smelly scene of their protests, most commonly the N2?highway.

“We said the city must collect them, but they keep on bringing them back. That why we’re taking them back to them,” he says.

“We have been complaining about these potta-potties for a long time, with no answer from the 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.”

Here’s another frequently asked faecal question: how did the protesters decide on this particular biological weapon?

It all started, Zonke says, when employees from Sanicare went on strike for a wage increase.

That’s the company contracted by the City of Cape Town to collect and clean the portable flush toilets.

The Sanicare employees asked residents to support them, and people agreed.

After weeks of the toilets not being cleaned, residents from informal settlements in Gugulethu gathered the containers full of human waste from their homes, headed to the N2 – and started a revolution.

Then politics entered the equation.?City councillor Loyiso Nkhola and ex-councillor Andile Lili, both members of the ANC Youth League, realised the residents of Gugulethu were on?to?something.

They led a handful of protesters into the heart of Cape Town’s city centre and dumped faeces on the steps of the provincial legislature.

Another group really ramped up the pressure on city authorities when they spread human waste all over a terminal at Cape Town International Airport on June 25.

Few of the protests are as high-profile. Faeces have been flung by “poo protesters” somewhere in Cape Town a number of times each week since early June.

In the last two weeks, the pace has ratcheted up frantically and there is now almost a protest every day.

The city’s governing party, the DA, believes politics is at the heart of every protest. But many of the people lugging containers full of poo on to the N2 are ordinary informal settlement residents who claim no political affiliation.

There’s another question, then: how do the protesters decide what to target and when to strike?

Technology is key. Zonke and others explain that messaging programmes like WhatsApp come in handy when you’re planning a poo protest.

Residents still attend more traditional community meetings at which they decide what’s on the week’s protest agenda.

They have to be careful.

Residents tell City Press that the police are targeting their meetings, watching carefully to ensure that protest leaders who have already been charged for poo-related offences aren’t breaking their bail conditions.

Small meetings at ever-shifting venues are the solution to that problem.

And once your target’s been identified, how do you transport a reeking container of human waste?

Simple, really. Most of the protests happen on stretches of the national highway alongside informal settlements, so residents just walk on to the road, unscrew the tops of the containers and spread the poo.

If their target is further afield, Zonke says, they opt for public transport, particularly trains.

That’s a little risky, though. In June, 184 people were arrested at Cape Town station as they alighted, containers in hand, the city centre firmly in their cross hairs.

Zonke and his neighbours have no intention of stopping. While the smell of their own waste still permeates kitchens and bedrooms, there’s more fighting to be done. – West Cape News

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