Realising the Greywater Cleaning Problems


The working team is paid R80/day by the Municipality to perform various duties in Langrug, including the cleaning and maintenance of greywater channels. We had only seen the working team clean the channels once or twice even though this was a task that is meant to be done on a daily basis. Dawie had also expressed concern regarding this issue and brought it up during the partnership meeting on Tuesday. He suggested that if the working team did not start cleaning the channels more, he would suspend the Langrug program. We inadvertently discussed the matter with the working team after the partnership meeting.

Cast of Characters

WPI students, women working team members


Wendy House


We started a brief discussion with the working team where we asked what skills they wanted to learn from us in the remaining time we have in Langrug. They asked us to teach them basic computer and reporting skills, which we wholeheartedly agreed to. We then asked them if there was anything they wanted us to learn or see, and Juan suggested we learn about the greywater cleaning process. This inadvertently prompted a lengthy, passionate discussion about the issue.

We figured out that the channels had only been cleaned once or twice in the month that WPI had been there. The women have become hesitant to clean them because the greywater gives them skin rashes. Kholeka and Khungeka had especially visible skin issues that they say came from cleaning the channels. Kholeka said that she had “resigned” because her body could not handle the process. We asked whether they used gloves or boots and found out that they did not possess any, meaning they were cleaning the channels in sandals and with their bare hands.

A heated discussion ensued where Amanda and Siyanda discussed various issues with the greywater maintenance. At times it seemed as if Amanda and the other women were trying to blame Alfred and Trevor for not assisting them with the cleaning, or blaming each other for standing around while others worked. Siyanda quickly shut this conversation down by saying that they alone were responsible for not keeping up with the work. She said that she was lucky enough because her husband supplied her with gloves to use, but that everyone else wasn’t as fortunate. She talked about how children playing in the channel get diarrhea and how generally unhealthy it is to be exposed to it. At one point Siyanda said that the issue started once the Municipality provided a stipend for their work. Initially, the community volunteered to maintain the channels, so if the working team didn’t do it one day, someone else did. But after the maintenance fell into the job description of the working team, the community saw the maintenance as a working team job only. So if the working team didn’t clean the channels, they just didn’t get cleaned at all.

We asked the working team why they did not bring any of this up with the Municipality but we only got vague answers from them. We also could not tell if they had ever been given protective gear in the past.


This was an intense discussion that we were not expecting. We had seen pictures of the women cleaning the channels but did not even notice that they lacked gloves and shoes, or we at least failed to recognize that the lack of protective gear might not be due to ignorance.

We were initially of the impression that the working team was just being lazy or disorganised when it came to cleaning the channels; we never considered the possibility that they were putting themselves at an immense health risk. We are constantly side-stepping around the channels ourselves but never considered the implications of cleaning them with our bare hands. We were somewhat irritated that the issue was not brought up sooner; we’ve been so distracted with designs for an MPC and reblocking that we failed to discover a pertinent health risk that has an easy solution. The role of the Municipality in providing this gear has also been called into question. It is possible that the Municipality initially provided gloves, etc to the team but they were lost or stolen. Even if that was the case, the Municipality still has the responsibility to protect its employees (the working team) from an apparent health risk. It seems like we (WPI and the Municipality) assumed that the greywater cleaning was not getting done due to work ethic and personal issues, and we are now proactively trying to remedy the problem while attempting to maintain the sense of a partnership by involving the working team and the Municipality.