Work without masks

2017-06-15 06:01
Street cleaners in Barcelona informal settlement work without facial masks. PHOTO: Mandla Mnyakama

Street cleaners in Barcelona informal settlement work without facial masks. PHOTO: Mandla Mnyakama

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Community street cleaners in informal settlements in Gugulethu and Nyanga complain that they are working without all the necessary protective gear, in particular face masks.

They also say they want the same vaccinations given to janitors. They say they are afraid to complain to their bosses for fear of losing their jobs.

The group, mostly women, work for Mawose Cleansing Services, contracted by the City of Cape Town. There are 16 cleaners in Europe, 10 in Barcelona, nine in Borcherds Quarry, six in Lusaka, seven in Klipfontein Road, and six in Vukuzenzele informal settlement.

Cleaners from Mpetha Square informal settlement echoed their sentiments.

The cleaners collect refuse bags from shacks, general litter and garbage dumped at informal dumping sites, and drop it off at containers for collection.

They say they are often confronted with unbearable smell from disposable nappies, dead cats and dogs, rotten food, and animal skins, skulls and bones. Sometimes, they have to deal with raw sewage as some residents empty out their portable toilets at the dumps.

The company supplies workers with brooms, hand gloves, rakes, reflector vests, spades and work suits.

Patrick Silo of Mawose said, “We usually do not just give out facial masks to our cleaners for any situation, but provide them with it only when they deal with serious filth in squalid conditions.”

He said, “We fear that they might lose them easily. They have done so in the past … Whatever they told you is all lies.”

The cleaners however said none of them had ever been provided with masks. Some said they had decided to buy their own masks or relatives bought masks for them. They said their managers told them to wait ten minutes after opening the collection containers before entering to wait for the stench to clear.

A mother of two from Europe Squatter Camp, who did not want to be named, said she wanted the government to help them “because its obvious that our bosses are not willing to do so. It has been four months now since we started this work.”

She believed milk would boost her immune system if she drank it while on duty. Other workers also believed that drinking milk would protect them from sickness. (There is absolutely no evidence that drinking milk has any efficacy.)

Ntombizine Sobethwa, a mother of five from Vukuzenzele, said she bought her own facial masks – five since January.

She also believed in the milk myth. “No one had assured us that milk was good to protect us from what we do. We just drink it because other people advised us to do so in order to be safe from the choking stench we usually inhaled. However, the expense of the milk becomes too much, and it becomes impossible to afford regularly,” said Sobethwa.

A worker from Lusaka said she has spent R450 on a course of three Hepatitis B vaccinations since July 2016, when she started the job. “But raising the matter with our management becomes too risky,” said a worker. V Continued on page 3.

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