Don’t forget the toilets, ma’am mayor

2011-06-04 09:12

Open letter to Patricia de Lille

Dear Madam Mayor,

Firstly, let me congratulate you on your ascent to the position of mayor of Cape Town.

You will no doubt be aware that with this position comes many challenges.

On April 27 this year, I stood with 2 500 fellow Khayelitsha comrades to draw attention to the lack of access to clean and safe sanitation in my community.

In an event organised by the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), we marched from St George’s Cathedral to your predecessor Dan Plato’s office, where we peacefully queued behind a toilet to symbolically illustrate how many of us continue to wait for access to the most basic of services.

The petition we intended to hand over to Plato was endorsed by more than 25 organisations and 10 000 people, but more than a month later, we have yet to receive a response.

According to recent research by the Water Dialogues, 500 000 people in the City of Cape Town do not have access to basic sanitation.

The poor state of toilets and water services in informal settlements affects my community in many ways.

I routinely see sewage overflowing from manholes and toilets through people’s homes; stagnant, filthy water collecting under standpipes; children playing in sewage that gathers in pathways due to a lack of drainage; and toilets that have broken from overuse and vandalism.

The most direct impact of this is on health, since personal hygiene becomes impossible to follow if the environment is permanently dangerous and unhygienic.

Diarrhoea has become one of the leading causes of death for children under five years old in Khayelitsha.

In Khayelitsha’s informal settlements, there are no plans in place for the routine maintenance and monitoring of sanitation services, where one toilet can be shared by up to 100 people. This is left to “the community”.

The quality of existing sanitation services could be greatly improved by providing routine maintenance, monitoring and coordination of ­existing sanitation services.

It would ensure that existing toilets do not fall into disrepair, and when faults such as broken pipes and overflowing manholes arise, they are dealt with.

It would reduce costs by ensuring that the problems are addressed before they reach the point of requiring costly repairs, and this will greatly improve the quality of lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

The first step in doing this is to ­extend routine maintenance and monitoring services to toilets and water sources in informal settlements.

The SJC holds that the only viable solution will come from widespread consultation between the city, ­experts, civil society and communities.

To date, the city has shunned the SJC and other organisations’ ­attempts to engage on providing sanitation. It has failed to recognise the scope of the problem, claiming that “there is access to sanitation in Khayelitsha”.

We hope that you will reject such callous denial and commit to witnessing first-hand how this basic service is failing hundreds of thousands of Capetonians.

We look forward to working with you.

Axolile Notywala, general secretary Social Justice Coalition

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