All citizens have a right to dignity

2010-06-19 12:31

Across South Africa many people continue to use bucket toilets or share a toilet with five other families.

This year the Human Rights Commission (HRC) dealt with a complaint made by the ANC Youth League on behalf of residents of Makhaza, a poor community in Kha­yelitsha, against the City of Cape Town, alleging the municipality had violated the community’s rights to dignity and privacy by installing toilets without enclosures.

The HRC is an independent statutory body established by the Constitution to monitor, assess and promote the attainment of human rights.

It receives and ­responds to complaints from across the political divide.

Its substantial investigations and reports on socio-economic rights show that all rights are connected and inter-related.

In relation to sanitation, at least 10.5 million people across South Africa lack access to basic sanitation.

The HRC argues that short-term sanitation solutions must be linked to sustainable long-term solutions, including addressing the housing backlog.

The background to this complaint is that in 2007 the city began installing toilets for 1 316 households.

Residents were informed that the toilets would be a temporary measure until houses were built.

Three years later the temporary solution remains.

Of the 1 316 toilets that were installed by the city, 1 265 were enclosed by residents at their own expense, so the complaint concerns the remaining 51.

The HRC began its investigation into the complaint by visiting Makhaza. It consulted both parties and chaired a mediation session in an attempt to reach an amicable solution, but this broke down as the parties could not come to an agreement.

The city expressed its support for the HRC’s decision to make a finding as it had planned similar projects in other areas.

The HRC concluded its investigation recently and found that the city had violated the right to dignity by not enclosing the toilets.

It recommended that the city re-install the 51 toilets and adequately enclose them.

And that the city’s planned projects be completed without violating the right to dignity.

Importantly, the commission recommended that the national Department of Human Settlements, in conjunction with the Department of Water Affairs, intervene with greater urgency in all provinces to ensure that its stated policy of ensuring the eradication of the bucket system was achieved.

The HRC stressed the need for these departments to strive towards phasing out communal toilets and ensuring that the toilet for each household was adequately enclosed.

When the HRC released the summary of its finding, the leader of the DA, Helen Zille, attacked the HRC as biased towards the ANC.

Aside from the fact that this ignores the content of the HRC’s findings, which extend far beyond the areas within which the DA is the majority party, the ­attack sets a dangerous precedent for leaders of other parties, including the ANC.

The commissioners who were appointed to the HRC last year have chosen to focus on poverty and inequality because those with few socio-economic rights have little chance of accessing their civil and political rights.

Staff and commissioners have agreed that this focus must guide our work.

This will often challenge political leaders whose task it is to ensure that these rights are realised, but we make no apologies for doing our work without fear or ­favour.

Dignity does not belong only to a privileged few.

It belongs to every single one of us. It is the founding value of our constitutional democracy and a basic human right.

Those entrusted with power in national, provincial and local government have a constitutional responsibility to maintain and uphold this right.

» Govender is deputy chair of the ­Human Rights ­Commission

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