Disgusting toilets an affront to our notion of justice

2012-01-28 13:29

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure that public toilets are kept clean – especially at places like magistrates’ courts, where people come to seek justice.

 Judging by the state of the toilets at the Durban Magistrates’ Court, you would think plumbing and hygiene was a rare and expensive science. The scenes that greet visitors to these toilets are straight out of a horror story.

Some of the toilets are piled high with waste, with flies buzzing in this haven of filth. The basins are extremely dirty, most taps do not work and there is no soap.

“These toilets are in an appalling state. There is absolutely no toilet paper, and most toilets do not flush. They are visibly grimy and filled with urine and faecal matter, which I imagine gets emptied on very rare occasions,” a second-year candidate attorney cried out
as we exchanged stories about the Durban Magistrates’ Court.

This is where my career as a reporter began in the early 1990s. I remember spending my days driving between the magistrates’ court in Pinetown and the one in Durban. The filth in the women’s toilets at the courts in Durban is an affront to the dignity of women.

The magistrates, clerks of the court and other staff use their own private toilets, which are kept under lock and key.Those who have been inside these special toilets say the difference is staggering. They are tidy, do not smell, have toilet paper and are obviously cleaned regularly.

The candidate attorney says that for her it is a truly bitter pill to swallow that this indignity is suffered by mostly elderly and middle-aged women with children, the overwhelming majority of whom are black and poor.

She adds: “They can generally be found sitting on the benches outside the various courts, waiting for their matter to be heard by a presiding officer, or to be helped by the clerk of the court. Their cases invariably relate to maintenance issues, domestic violence and abuse, divorce or children’s issues.

“I assume most of them travel quite far and spend what little money they have on transport to attend court to await justice.”

Those in authority are not moved to act decisively to ensure that the public toilets are clean because they do not have to endure the unbearable filth.

The citizens who go to these courts have to relieve themselves in truly unbearable conditions. Someone is not doing their job properly, and they need to account for the truly seedy state of toilets at the Durban Magistrates’ Court.

While the men’s toilets are also full of grime, this is apparently nothing compared to the filth that overwhelms the women’s toilet facilities, including the toilet for the disabled.The stench overpowers every sense and most of the toilets no longer have a toilet seat.

To make matters worse, roughly one in three do not have individual doors, and where doors are present, they are hanging off the hinges. A toilet that cannot be closed robs the user of the right to privacy, decency and dignity.

Add to this the absence of toilet paper and the fact that many of these toilets do not flush, and you have a situation that is truly at odds with any idea of justice. At the most basic level, this is about hygiene, but ultimately, it reflects an incredible lack of respect. It is unacceptable that citizens who are trying to get justice should have to put up with such dehumanising conditions. It is traumatic enough for many of these citizens to seek justice.

They should be able to do so in a place that offers them comfort and solace, not a place where they are most likely to pick up infections and diseases. The stink and filth of the Durban Magistrates’ Court toilets may not reach the noses of the officials who are there to dispense justice, but it is high time they attend to it.

The officials charged with providing clean, safe and dignified facilities to citizens seeking justice need to clean up their act and sort out this stinking mess.

We are all appalled when we hear of a miscarriage of justice and in the age of digital media, the affronted express their disgust via blogs and social media.But perhaps this kind of situation that eats away at the dignity of the powerless lacks the drama or the intrigue of corruption, death or scandal that would move many to reach for their keyboards.

The authorities should eradicate this needless stink by hiring more cleaning staff, making cleanliness a necessary condition for dispensing justice with dignity.

The state of these toilets mocks our justice system.

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