Our Toilets Stink!

By Drum Digital
08 September 2010

IT’S a matter that goes right to the heart of human dignity: having a toilet where you can do your most personal private business. After 16 years of democracy we should all have access to proper toilets, South Africans believe.

But the reality is far from this ideal. From Khayelitsha in Cape Town to KwaNqetho in Durban and Ramaphosa informal settlement on Joburg’s East Rand, residents are taking to the streets to demand better sanitation for them and their families – and some are willing to march, protest and resort to violence to get them.

One man who has taken up this particular fight for his community in Ramaphosa and nearby Reiger Park has even been arrested for his efforts. Community leader Sipho Vanga spent two days in jail for inciting violence after he led protests against the installation of chemical toilets in informal settlements. The toilets were installed because the pit latrines were posing a health hazard to the densely populated area.

“After 16 years of democracy they are still bringing things like portable toilets,” 24-year-old Sipho says furiously. The charges against him were eventually dropped, but being detained didn’t stop him.

He’s back on the warpath. “Ramaphosa and Reiger Park are so undeveloped,” he says.

“Our toilets are unclean, unsanitary and they smell, especially in summer.”

Another reason the residents want the toilets removed is because they are unsafe. “Any passerby can use them, including drunks who leave them filthy,” Sipho explains. “At night women and children can’t use them for fear of sexual violence.

“We don’t want them. We prefer pit toilets that use fewer chemicals. They can be constructed inside the property, meaning the owner has full control – not to mention privacy and dignity.”

THE Ekurhuleni municipality spends between R900 and R1 200 a month on rent for each of the 350 chemical toilets, Sipho says. He believes the money could be used to serve some 20 000 residents in Ramaphosa. “The money they’re spending on rent for chemical toilets can be channelled to other projects, such as building a clinic, recreational facilities or paving streets.”

Sipho also insists something fishy is going on. Although he doesn’t have any proof the municipality is involved, he alleges a woman named Bridget approached him after he went on Talk Radio 702 to complain about the situation. She offered him R50 000 to keep quiet and stop protesting about the toilets, he claims. But Sipho, who dropped out of his analytical chemistry degree at Wits University because of financial problems, refuses to be silenced. “Until such time as we have proper sanitation, access to clean water, a working clinic and other basic services, I won’t stop,” he says firmly.

Meanwhile there are fears Ramaphosa will erupt into violence, the same way Makhaza in Khayelitsha did earlier this year. Cops were called in to calm the protesting.

The City of Cape Town had agreed to install toilets if the residents of Makhaza provided walls to house them. But the povertystricken community couldn’t afford to build structures and the city was accused of denying people basic human rights (Give us back our dignity, 4 February). When the city tried to erect covering using prefab material, angry groups tried to burn them down because they wanted brick walls.

Read the full article in DRUM of 16 September 2010

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