Masses of people, masses of litter

Children play and walk among burnt animal carcasses while their parents work on streets and spaces littered with used condoms and empty fast food containers. Despite the efforts of the official cleaning company, Yeoville’s streets remain strewn with litter. But some volunteers have taken cleaning into their own hands.

Animal bones are piled in one corner, burnt to a crisp. Large shards of glass glint from the sidewalk, beacons for residents to follow. Beneath the few trees, empty condom wrappers and cigarette packs lie scattered among the empty fast food containers, creating a path to the door of every business.

While many South Africans live in Yeoville, this densely populated area has become the space that many foreigners call home. Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Congolese and many other nationalities hope to start a new life here for themselves and their families. This diverse set of people has created a mix of cultures that allows almost any visitors to experience new food, music, language and traditions.

However, the great number of residents in Yeoville has put a burden on the suburb. People not only struggle to find adequate living space and work to pay for everyday survival, but pressure has been placed on the infrastructure, specifically the ability to keep the buildings and streets clean. Residents and their children live among litter, and dirty water too often flows out of blocked drains.

“If you look at Yeoville, you’ll see it’s really a dump. It’s old, dilapidated and I imagine a lot of people only move here until their funds are better for them to move somewhere better. So it’s very much a transit suburb. There’s a high-density population, the flats are very overcrowded and I think that puts a lot of pressure on the resources.”

The dirtiest streets in Yeoville are those next to and close to the market. One entrance to the market opens on Rockey Street, where many other Yeoville businesses are located.

Dr Bosama Mbokolo, a local general practitioner with an office in Hunter Street, not far from the market, has treated many patients who became sick or were injured because of the litter and broken glass on the streets.

“I’ve treated patients who have stepped in the broken glass on the streets, or have been stabbed,” says Mbokolo. “The pieces of glass are quite big, and they are just left on the street corners. People get into fights and use them as weapons.”

The doctor believes that one of the reasons there is a garbage problem in Yeoville is that 99% of the population is black and foreign. “Maybe they are considering that this [Yeoville] is the area of the poor and foreign and black and maybe the municipality leave us alone and they are not interested in [us],” says Mbokolo.

EVERYWHERE: Piles of rubbish like this one are often left on street corners for almost two weeks, according to a local doctor who struggles to keep the street in front of his practice clean. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

On the corner and across the street from his practice, piles of rubbish and broken glass have not been removed for weeks. Mbokolo says he doesn’t see the city’s cleaning contractor, Pikitup, cleaning his street very often.

Pikitup’s employees, however, work in Yeoville every day of the week. Their day starts at 7am and finishes at 3.30pm. The cleaners work on weekends as well, but then only from 7am to 12pm.

Mavis Masheqo, a Pikitup employee, has been cleaning the streets of Yeoville since 2011. Each street in Yeoville gets one cleaner who sweeps it, puts the rubbish in rubbish bags and sweeps the leaves into piles. However, Masheqo says it is difficult for them to do their jobs.

According to Masheqo, she often has to deal with homeless people and street kids rummaging through the refuse bags after she has filled them with garbage from the street.

“I’ve got problems with the streets kids,” she says. “When I’ve finished cleaning and I’ve put [the rubbish] in the bags, they open the bags and just leave it like that. The papers fly out, and are all over the street. Now I have to go back again and clean it again. And I’m getting angry because of it.”

Masheqo says the cleaners have complained but nothing has been done about it. They are also scared to confront the street kids because they are threatened when they do. “When you chase them away, they promise to hit you. We are not safe.”

According to Masheqo, even the community fights with them. “When you tell them: ‘Don’t throw it [rubbish] on the street, just put it inside the plastic bags’, they don’t want to listen. We don’t know what we must do … The councillor is supposed to call them and talk to them and tell them that they must work together with us, with Pikitup. [He must] tell them that they should put their garbage in the small bag [in the bin] and then we’ll come [and] put it in the big bag, not that they should throw their papers on the ground and just throw the nappy of their child on the ground just because you saw the cleaner there.”

Residents tell the cleaners that, because they are working and earning money, people can throw the garbage wherever they want to, she says.

Yeoville falls under Ward 67. According to the councillor, Sihlwele Myeki, the council has received complaints from the community that Pikitup is not cleaning efficiently, although they are there every day. “I would like to think that Pikitup is doing its best,” says Myeki.

A big part of the sanitation and litter problem, he says, can be attributed to the large number of people on the streets: “There are unusually large numbers of people that either do business in Yeoville and stay in Yeoville or come through here for enjoyment.”

The councillor says he has to deal with people who say they litter because they know there are people who will clean the streets. “I’ve told them I’m sure you won’t do this in Sandton,” he says. “I don’t think it’s because Yeoville is full of foreigners, but I do think that when people see others doing it, or see other people cleaning it up, they don’t care.”

Too much foot traffic

Mexican-born Sebastian Zaremba, a trader and committee member of the Yeoville Market, agrees that a big contribution to the dirty streets is the overcrowding.

“In the main street, in particular, there’s a hell of a lot of foot traffic, because most of the shops like the Shoprite, the butchery and food places are located there.

“Most people will trek up and down that street, so there’s a lot of movement but there’s also a lot of rubbish that gets discarded because, by the time you’ve crossed the robot, you’ve finished your cool drink or packet of chips or whatever you’ve bought and you just discard it.

“If you look at Yeoville, you’ll see it’s really a dump. It’s old, dilapidated and I imagine a lot of people only move here until their funds are better for them to move somewhere better. So it’s very much a transit suburb. There’s a high-density population, the flats are very overcrowded and I think that puts a lot of pressure on the resources.”

While Pikitup is responsible for cleaning the streets of Yeoville, they do not clean the market. The committee has assembled a group of 12 volunteers who clean the market after it has closed at night. The volunteers all work or trade in the market, and do not get paid for cleaning it. They sweep the surrounding streets as well and place all the garbage in bags. Pikitup fetches these bags at midnight and before the market opens at 7am, about three volunteers sweep the streets and the market again.

WORKING TOGETHER: This group, mainly women, has grown very close since they started cleaning together earlier this year. They have a specific routine every night – they start with the inside of the market and move to the outside – and make sure they help each other as much as they can. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

According to Zaremba, the committee has also taken out the big garbage bins and placed them outside the market. The traders are responsible for getting rid of their garbage when they close their shops at night. Since the committee introduced “three or four cats”, Zaremba says the number of rats and cockroaches has gone down.

However, a big problem with litter and sanitation, which leads to health problems, are the bathrooms in the market and how people use them. There is also a shortage of public toilets in Yeoville. A fee of R1 is charged for the use of the toilets in the market, but Zaremba says not everyone knows how to use them properly.

“Blocked drains are a very common occurrence. Not only in the buildings, but on the streets as well. I think because most of the foreign nationals coming in to Yeoville come from countries where you just discard your rubbish on the streets. What happens here, however, is that it all collects in the drains. In many of their countries, especially those that are developing countries, which most of them are, they are used to using buckets and not proper toilets.”

Zaremba says the women’s toilets are a problem specifically because they sit down. When the toilet seat is too dirty, women squat in the corner on the floor. This creates a breeding ground for flies, maggots and bacteria. Diseases like diarrhoea and urinary tract infections are passed on this way. He says people seldom wash their hands, especially with soap, and, because most of the people who use these bathrooms work in the market, they work with food and spread the diseases to their customers.

The market committee has employed someone to clean the market toilets at night, paid with the money they make when people use the bathrooms throughout the day.

Zaremba says he would like to see the other cleaning volunteers getting paid as well but until they are able to apply to the council for a tender to clean the market, “they are going to have to work for free”. The cleaning volunteer group is made up of Yeoville residents, and not outsiders, and is therefore an example of what can be done to create more jobs for and within the community.

Plans to help everyone

According to councillor Myeki, a programme called Jozi at Work will soon be implemented in, among others, the general Yeoville area. The aim of Jozi at Work is to alleviate poverty by creating jobs within communities. “The City of Johannesburg intends to use Jozi at Work as a form of environmental management.

“Jozi at Work will allow people in the community to do the clean-up, separation [of recyclable materials], and be paid for it. So hopefully when that kick-starts and kicks in, we will be seeing a cleaner environment and a cleaner Yeoville.”

“Jozi at Work is about creating encouragement and co-operatives,” says Yvette Adams, a Yeoville resident and owner of Barefoot in the Keys, a company that employs people to do general handy work such as fix gates, paint houses and walls as well as fix geysers and potholes.

“Jozi at Work is about creating jobs, and the way to go is a joint venture or a co-op. If my company gets a job from, for example, the Johannesburg Roads Agency, then it’s only me and I only employ one or two people. But with this [Jozi at work], there are eight of us, so if we get, let’s say, three projects, three of us can employ five people. So then instead of one person only giving five people jobs, three give 15 people jobs.”

The jobs can include anything from fixing roads to building and fixing houses, as well as cleaning. According to Adams and Myeki, the community seems very happy and excited about the programme. However, there are some people who have doubts. A trader, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he thinks the City of Johannesburg will not deliver.

“They will only give work to their friends and to who they like,” he says. “I think they will also take most of the money and there will still be people in Yeoville who are homeless and very poor.”

A homeless man who wants to be known simply as “Marcus”, says he really hopes the programme works.

“Yeoville has a lot of people like me, who can and want to work but can’t find any. I can paint a house or fix a gate, and I can clean very, very well. It is not nice to sleep in a dirty place, and Yeoville is very dirty. I really hope people like me can get a job so that we can also make Yeoville a better place.”

FEATURED IMAGE: This group, mainly women, has grown very close since they started cleaning together earlier this year. They have a specific routine every night – they start with the inside of the market and move to the outside – and make sure they help each other as much as they can. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

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