BHC residential complex turning into a public dumping site

01 Jul 2019

Failure to collect refuse on a regular basis and a decrease in the stock of refuse receptacles at a Block 5 residential complex have precipitated a public health emergency that both the Botswana Housing Corporation and the Gaborone City Council haven’t been unable to contain.

While Gomolemo Zimona, the BHC spokesperson, says that the Corporation is “indeed aware of the said problem”, the said problem has gone on for way too long and the solution is a quite simple one.

For more than two years now, the stock of waste receptacles (being reuse, 44-litre oil drums) at Plot 40353 has been thinning out as the bottoms of the old ones give out and the drum-bins are not replaced. The plot is a 72-unit residential complex owned by BHC and has never experienced this problem before. Built into traffic islands between the two rows of flats are small, open-topped brick enclosures that serve as depots for the drum-bins. There was a time when each depot, which serves two nine-unit blocks, had no less than six drum-bins. With the bin stock having thinned out, some depots have to make do with just one worn-out bin. And, while the stock is thinning out, the waste from the complex is certainly not. That has resulted in a situation in which the remaining bins overflow with waste which then carpets the floor of the enclosures and ferments.

Zimona, who is BHC’s Head of Marketing and Communications, attributes the problem to “several factors” and mentions three: “illegal dumping which happens mostly over the weekends and at night”, collection trucks breaking down and “theft of relief bins.” Of the latter, he adds that “this has happened several times despite our efforts to replace them every time they are stolen.” Conversely, tenants themselves would struggle to recall instances when those bins were replaced every time they were stolen – or any replacement at all in the past two years.

While BHC is ultimately responsible for the residential complex and its waste management, there are other equally culpable parties that it is not exercising proper stewardship over. At the height of the problem last year, free-standing waste rose to more than 30 centimetres off the floor of the enclosure-depots. The situation would stay that way for weeks (in some cases months on end) even during the rainy and windy seasons. Zimona didn’t ask a direct question of which party between BHC and GCC is responsible for ensuring that the health of tenants is not compromised.

BHC engages private cleaning companies on a rotational basis and brought in a new one last year. Obviously against what their job description stipulated and taking time away from their other responsibilities, workers of the previous company would spend hours on end bagging waste strewn on the floor of the depots. In its early days, the new company that came in last year didn’t go that extra mile – which was when the shin-height waste heap built up. The waste is collected by BHC trucks whose crews are typically in a tearing hurry and unlike that other cleaning company, don’t go the extra mile: they only empty the bins into the truck’s hopper and leave behind the free-standing garbage strewn on the floor of the depot. In fairness to them, it is not their job to pick up free-standing garbage but doing so would greatly enhance the quality of the service they provide. Only lately has the new company started bagging excess waste in the manner of the previous one but in addition to being bothersome, this is tiresome extra work that could be avoided.

Largely on account of public goodwill, tenants use a single, centrally-located skip to depose of domestic waste – naturally, there is the odd tenant who still adds to the free-standing waste problem. For some tenants, the distance to the skip is twice that one would have walked to the block-assigned depot.

The GCC features in this saga in a quite unusual manner. The skip has other, non-tenant users some of them bar owners from neighbouring areas. Giving up on GCC trucks coming around to collect waste from their residential and business premises, these people decide to take matters into their own hands. That they do by dumping waste at the Plot 40353 skip which, never having been adequate for a 72-unit complex, has to accommodate extra waste from outside. Naturally, this means that tenants’ Option B of waste disposal is not working because the skip fills up fast very and also that, to all intents and purposes, Plot 40353 has become a public dumping site. Contrary to what Zimona says, the illegal dumping happens almost every day. When the skip is full, human scavengers from neighbouring low-income areas stir it up to retrieve food and metal cans. In the process, all the toxic gases that had been trapped inside are released into the atmosphere, in one respect creating risk of respiratory diseases.

Outsiders’ use of the skip raises the issue of safety and security for tenants. Of all BHC flats in Gaborone – possibly in Botswana, the Block 5 flats are the only ones without a perimetre fence and have been since they were first occupied in the mid-1990s. The result has been that anyone, at any time of the day, has unrestricted access and some pedestrians use the unfenced areas them as a thoroughfare. With a new shopping mall taking shape in the local centre (GCC’s official term for what is commonly known as “open spaces”), a bar has added to the volume of traffic that use the complex as a public thoroughfare.

Even with its own awareness about theft at the flats, BHC can still manage to justify the absence of a perimeter fence around the complex. Zimona says that its two plots in Block 5 on which it has built flats and townhouses exist within established neighborhoods and were constructed with a provision to allow for easy access within and around the development.

He adds: “This was done by way of providing access roads and should boundary fences be erected, it would mean that people’s movement will be restricted.  It is also worth noting that when this was done some time back the idea was to create a sense of belonging within that community by creating easy access points to amenities in the neighborhood.”

Lately, the Corporation has been carrying out routine 10-year maintenance in the complex through private companies and some of what is happening doesn’t make for the “peace of mind” that the Corporation promises. From both a technical and common sense perspective, replacement as an aspect of maintenance is a quality process with quite legitimate expectation by consumers that the replacement should be incrementally qualitative. However, in phasing out asbestos bath tubs – which were roomier and more comfortable, BHC is replacing them with uncomfortable steel ones whose handles wear fast and this being winter, the tubs are extremely cold to the touch. Unlike the old bathtubs, the design of the rims makes for easy water spillage and present an unusual challenge for those whose childhood didn’t include having to ride a donkey bareback.

Sunday Standard sought an explanation of why the old comfortable bathtubs are being replaced with uncomfortable ones. Zimona’s response is as follows: “The Corporation’s maintenance service level agreement has specifications of materials to be used whenever repairs or replacements are done. The one we are using currently specifies replacement with steel bathtubs but definitely this is not cast in stone where at the comfort of the Tenant we can insist replacement with steel bath tubs. This is just a specification we believe is sufficient.” He adds that while the Corporation consults tenants on issues regarding maintenance, “there is a possibility that some items are replaced due to the fact that they may have been discontinued in the market hence such changes.”

This situation notwithstanding, on its website, BHC still says that it is “responsible for maintenance of your leased BHC house for your comfort and enjoyment.” The solution seems to be a quite simple and inexpensive one because BHC never usedcommercial waste receptacles but drum-bins that roadside vendors currently sell for P150 each.