Bucket toilets: ‘Nothing has changed since 1994’

2014-09-21 15:00

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Nothing has changed since 1994, the people say. In fact, the situation is much, much worse

Phumza Bekwaphi dreads having to relieve herself.

“I feel like someone is watching me from behind when I am doing my business. It feels as if someone would just remove the bucket and touch you while you’re seated there,” says the 34-year-old.

She lives on Weslend? A Street in Port Elizabeth’s Airport Valley, whose residents are among the more than 52?000 people in the Eastern Cape still using the notorious bucket toilet system.

The informal settlement takes its name from the nearby airport and borders Walmer township, whose RDP houses have flush toilets.

Illegal electrical connections snake along Weslend? A Street, which is packed with shacks of every size and shape. There are no public toilets here – or anywhere else in Airport Valley – so residents pay a R10 one-off fee for a 20-litre bucket from municipal employees.

This is placed beneath a toilet seat in a makeshift cubicle, most often in the corner of a yard. Every Thursday, municipal workers collect the buckets on Weslend?A Street and the rest of Airport Valley, replacing them with clean ones.

The seven days between the switch feel like an eternity to the families who rely on the archaic system.

“The smell is unbearable and the flies are all over the place, especially when [the bucket] is full. If you use a bucket toilet, you always try to hold on as long as possible to avoid going to the loo,” says Bekwaphi.

Stats?SA has revealed in its latest nonfinancial municipal census that bucket toilets are becoming more common in the Eastern Cape, North West and KwaZulu-Natal. The jump has been particularly drastic in the Eastern Cape. In 2012, there were 36?606 buckets used in the province. That figure rose to 52?732 last year.

That doesn’t surprise some of Weslend?A Street’s longest-standing residents.

Nonkululeko Mabindisa (29) moved to the street in 1994 to live with her mother. Since then, she’s become a mother herself and endured the devastating death of a child.

“I lost my little girl in 2012 when she was just a few months old. She had diarrhoea. I suspect it was the unhygienic environment we live in. Our living conditions are inhumane to say the least,” says Mabindisa.

In 1994, Weslend?A Street’s residents already relied on the bucket system. Four homes would share one bucket, which was changed once a week.

“Our life has always been the same, ever since [then]. Nothing has changed for us here. We thought under the new South Africa life would be better for us but 20 years later, it’s all the same.”

Protesting doesn’t help.

“The last time I was in a protest it was in April. We were demanding houses and better living conditions. I have been involved and seen many protests here but have seen no results,” she says. Bekwaphi, who’s lived on the street since 2011, agrees.

“We don’t even know why we continue to vote. We have been neglected by the government because we are poor people. Nobody cares about us, they just want our votes.”

After Stats?SA released its report, the Eastern Cape’s MEC for human settlements, Helen Sauls-August, said

her department was trying to ascertain where the increases had happened.

According to her, their records show 2?827 bucket toilets in the province, all in formal areas.

The MEC said R94?million was being pumped into nine projects in the Eastern Cape to put an end to the bucket system.

“The department reassures the people of the Eastern Cape, particularly those still using the bucket toilet system, that the bucket eradication programme is under way,” she says.

But on Weslend?A Street, people aren’t reassured.

Cynthia Ncanywa, who has lived there for 10 years, says: “We have done everything to convince the authorities, from writing petitions to protesting.

Nothing seems to work. No one seems to be listening. “Most of us have given up and accepted the situation for what it is.”

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