Covid-19’s impact on service delivery

Alex residents say that it has been days since refuse has been removed by Pikitup. All Photos by Thembisane Dube

As Gauteng becomes the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa, the residents of Alexandra say that service delivery has already been affected.

As the number of cases of covid-19 rises in the City of Johannesburg, services from the city’s utility companies such as City Power, Joburg Water and Pikitup will be greatly disrupted. These entities employ many people and provide much needed essential services to residents.

Hardest hit so far is Pikitup, the city’s waste management company, where about five depots have been shut down recently due to covid-positive cases among employees and deaths. Walking around Alexandra township in Region E, you are greeted by heaps of rubbish piling up on various street corners and almost at every doorstep.

Although a notice was circulated through councillors informing residents of a service disruption, some were in the dark.

“It is now four days since I last saw people sweeping the streets or a truck loading rubbish. I’m not sure if they are on a strike or what. My concern is kids playing naively close to this rubbish which you can smell from a distance. I fear another health scare if this is left unattended for too long,” says Romeo Mabaleka, one of Alexandra’s residents served by the Marlboro Pikitup depot which was closed due to covid-19.

A spaza shop owner only known as Edo says a pile of rubbish gathered close to his shop has negatively affected his businesses.

“The stench is terribly unbearable. Remember, I also sell ready-to-eat food here. I tried to clean rubbish myself but I’m getting tired and if I push it towards the public toilets, they’ll burn it… subsequently damaging toilets, creating another problem.” He said they heard a rumour that a local depot is battling covid-19.

“Yes is true there has been reported cases of covid-19 at Marlboro depot and elsewhere. We appeal to the residents to exercise patience as the city is trying its level best to ensure disruption of the service is minimal,” says Councillor Jeffrey Pietersen of Ward 91.

One of the Pikitup workers stationed at Marlboro depot asked to remain anonymous and shed light on more details of the matter:

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“I’m a truck loader. We are the ones moving around with these big trucks collecting refuse in the township; so a lady who was an assistant logistics manager at our depot died last week because of covid and all the drivers were reporting to her. That’s why there hasn’t been trucks collecting refuse as the drivers are self-isolating because they were always in close contact with her. Therefore, the current staff employed temporarily doesn’t know the township very well; that’s why there is a slow pace of collection and the rubbish is piling everywhere.”

In a statement, Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) on Environment and Infrastructure Development Services for the City of Johannesburg, Councillor Mpho Moerane, assured residents that there are operational plans in place to mitigate the impact of the virus on service delivery. These include the deployment of augmented services, but in some instances, communities may continue to experience delays because these private services do not know the routes and at times miss some streets. 

He said comprehensive catch up plans have been devised by each depot to ensure that once full capacity is restored, the backlogs are attended to as a matter of urgency and such plans have been communicated with the councillors in the various areas. This includes, among other things, extending operations through augmented services (where necessary) as well as increasing the frequency of rounds by the various depots.

“Pikitup is doing all it can to ensure that employees are protected and supported during these trying times. Our prayers go to all the affected and infected employees and their families. Unfortunately, it is a difficult balancing act to try and save the lives of employees while at the same time trying to ensure efficient service delivery. On the aforesaid, Pikitup is appealing for understanding and patience from residents. Residents are encouraged where possible to dispose of their uncollected waste at Pikitup’s integrated waste management facilities situated in all seven regions of the city,” reads the statement.

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SAMWU says it is concerned with the growing number of municipal workers who contract the virus.

Meanwhile, the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) released a statement expressing their great sadness over their national consolidated statistics that show that at least 63 municipal workers have succumbed to the virus while a further 4,571 have been confirmed as positive cases.

Their great concern is that the numbers of positive cases are on a steady increase, with the most cases registered in Western Cape (3,103), Gauteng (557) and Eastern Cape (486). The Eastern Cape province has recorded the highest number of deaths of municipal workers (27) followed by Western Cape (15) and Gauteng (11).

“As the epicenter of the virus shifts to Gauteng Province, we are greatly concerned about the health and safety of municipal workers. SAMWU, therefore, demands greater compliance of covid-19 regulations by all municipalities,” the union says.

They say they will be involving the Department of Labour and Employment inspectors on their oversight visits to municipalities and the department should ensure that all municipal offices that do not comply with the regulations and the Health and Safety Act are closed with immediate effect. 

“We also reiterate our call to municipal workers that where their health and safety cannot be guaranteed, municipal workers should simply refuse to work, they should not endanger their lives and that of their families and colleagues. Service delivery cannot continue at the expense of the lives of municipal workers. The health and safety of workers remains the responsibility of employers, including municipalities. We are not going to negotiate municipal workers’ health and safety; this is a matter of implementation. Dead municipal workers cannot deliver any services; dead residents cannot receive services.”

As of the 9th of July the total number of cases in Gauteng stood at 81,546.

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