Damaged clothing and linen from the Komani Hospital were found covered with mould, lying on the ground at OTJ Laundry Services in Sandringham recently. The state of the facility raised questions on how the company had qualified to do the laundry of the hospital since 2012.
After an anonymous employee had informed The Rep about the way in which the laundry was handled, The Rep visited the premises to see the conditions first hand.
The laundry had no proper washlines; the clothing was hung on electrical wires. The lines were not able to handle the weight of wet blankets and some of them dragged on the ground.
There was a small room the size of a toilet which was used to store unwashed items. Bundles of clothes and linen were spilling outside as there was no door to keep them in.
The rest of the ground area was covered with more clothing that was bleached by the sun and appeared to have rust stains.
The Rep had reported in September 21, 2012, ‘The Rep was called to a house in Wodehouse Street, where blankets, some with stencils identifying the linen as being from the mental facility, were found draped over walls and piles of bricks in the back yard. A dirty bag, also bearing the name of the hospital, was found in a neighbour’s yard. There is no sign outside the house which identifies it as a laundry.
Eastern Cape health department director of communications Siyanda Manana told The Rep at the time the company had met the tender requirements. Manana said the company’s director was Eram Sarah Nsom from Cameroon and that the six-month tender contract, worth more than R360 000, was awarded in July 2012 by the bid adjudication committee of the Chris Hani health district.
The anonymous source said the clothing and linen on the ground had been dampened by overnight dew and rain. Some of the clothing had been on the premises since June last year.
She said the laundry did not have the capacity to store the rest of the dirty laundry which arrived on a weekly basis. Some of the clothing had been damaged by being mixed with moist garments, some wet by urine.
“Every week a new pile of clothes is added on top of the ones from last year. We never finish washing the clothing and only manage to wash that which arrived recently. I think this is why staff at Komani do not notice that clothes are missing.”
Another source said when the inspector was on the way to check on the condition of the laundry someone had notified the owner last year in June.
“After she was notified she asked two unemployed men who usually sit at the side of the road to take a damaged batch of clothing and linen and burn it at an open field in Mlungisi. When the men threatened to report her to Komani Hospital she moved the items to a store room at the back of a liquor store in Cathcart Road.”
The sources said Nsom had said she would return the clothing when the tender ended. According to them, the items hidden at the storage place had been in the laundry since 2016.
“We are short staffed. The laundry is delivered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We only depended on three washing machines. The drying machines were all damaged and it was only after The Rep had contacted Nsom that two of them were serviced,” the source said.
She said the lack of washlines slowed down their work. “After we wash the clothes we have to wait for them to dry before we can hang out the rest. We fold the dry clothes on the floor as there is no furniture. Because our work is overwhelming we do not do any ironing.”
She added that the premises had no security system and that the apartments in the yard had been broken into recently.
The source said the casual workers employed to load the clothes into the truck complained about being forced to travel on the back of the truck with the dirty, smelly clothing.
“Some of them no longer accept the job for fear of contracting diseases. There are two trolleys from supermarkets which she paid someone to get which we must use to offload items from the truck.
“She shouts at us all the time and as a result we are always nervous. We are short staffed and underpaid. When a person leaves for another job she is not paid for the hours worked. If she wants to fire an employee she does it via other employees and they must leave without their wages. The reason she mistreats us is because we are not registered employees.”
When The Rep asked Nsom for comment she said was surprised to hear that the story would be published as one of the employees had said they had given a Rep reporter R500 not to print the story. Nsom said she would bring her response to The Rep’s office.
Instead, Nsom’s attorney, Sithembele Modi, said, “When the tender for laundry services was advertised our client submitted her bid and was successful. Prior to the inception of the tender, an inspection was held into hygiene and other relevant factor standards as regulated by the department of health.”
Modi claimed this was followed by numerous inspections to check if the standards were still adhered to.
“It is only after water restrictions were imposed last year and early this year and when load shedding began that our client approached the department of health to change the methods of washing and drying the laundry and there was consensus between the parties. We are in possession of such correspondence between the parties to the service level agreement.
“Our client dismisses the said allegation and terms as a smear campaign by her employees to discredit her, in collusion with journalist Abongile whom, according to our client, solicited a bribe in the sum of R500 from one of the employees of our client by the name of Phush.”
Modi said the issue of the temporary employees is in terms of Section 198 of the Labour Relations Act. He said Nsom was advised not to comment as the matter may, at a later stage, be in front of a relevant tribunal.
Meanwhile, the department of health’s spokesman, Lwandile Sicwetsha, said Nsom was given the tender in 2012 while the new laundry was under construction. He said the tender was advertised on a three monthly basis until the new laundry was commissioned.
“The laundry is almost complete. The specifications for the tender were industrial laundry and ironing machines.”
He added that an in loco inspection was done before the tender was awarded to Nsom and for the past seven years the tender had been repeatedly re-awarded to OTJ Laundry.
Sicwetsha said action would be taken if the laundry did not meet the stipulations. “When clothing is not clean it is returned and washed again without cost to the department. The site will be visited again to investigate the allegations and if found to be true, rectification, possibly including termination, will take place.”
To gain a clear perception of the state of the laundry visit The Rep Komani Facebook page or twitter page @ RepKomani.