Respect, dignity flushed away

2010-06-05 11:57

Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato and other DA leaders

quoted in the press over the past few months insist that the ­residents of

Makhaza in Khayelitsha chose between sheltered ­toilets shared by five homes, or

one ­exposed toilet per family.

What kind of a choice is that? People should

not have to choose one kind of inadequate toilet over another. Political parties

all promise basic services at every election and toilets with running water are

a basic necessity.

The so-called choice presented to the people

of Makhaza is a slap in the face after the shared toilet ­system during

apartheid, where families had to share toilets between houses.

The shared toilet scenario is a nightmare from our past. It is a

­reminder of apartheid degradation and an ­inconvenience.

If your neighbours were slobs, your ­family had to deal with the

consequences of cleaning up after them to make sure your children could use the

toilet safely.

If your neighbours were lazy, you ended up doing more cleaning than

they did. If one of your neighbours hogged the shared toilet, all manner of

arguments could arise.

This was if two families shared the toilet. Imagine the horror when

five families,­including children and the elderly, have to share a single


On the other hand, the open toilet ­scenario is a new form of

cruelty – the kind that can really only be inflicted on poor people in a


It would be inconceivable for a young, middle-class professional to

be offered a town house or flat with the same toilet options.

Imagine a constant audience not only as you take care of your

everyday bodily ­functions but also on those days when something has gone

drastically wrong and your body is out of control.

For most women and girls, the idea of an audience as we deal with

the ­practicalities of the blood our bodies ­release for a number of days each

month is an unmentionable horror.

We also know that toilets are not just used for ablutions. How many

of you would be happy to have an ­audience watching your masturbating or

­tampon-changing teenager?

And how much more uncomfortable are you reading this, knowing as

you do, that paedophiles come in all shapes and sizes?

How many women are utterly disgusted by men who urinate against

trees and walls no matter how many times we’ve seen it in our lives?

Imagine your friends, loved ones and strangers shared these

experiences with your family. In this scenario, the only ­recourse to privacy is

a blanket.

Imagine being told repeatedly that you had chosen this option and

should not complain.

Imagine working really hard every day, paying your taxes

and still not being able to afford to build that structure, and the daily

degradation of going to the toilet in front of an audience.

Imagine ­being

forced to watch.

I know you’d rather not imagine any of the above and are wishing

you had left this column until long after breakfast.

That is a choice you have: to avert your eyes, choose when to deal

with certain ­information, to close and lock the door to your toilet.

In Makhaza, the choices are different. It is an injustice that in

the second decade of democracy so many are still bound to this nightmare.

»Gqola is a

feminist, associate professor of literary and media studies at the University of

the ­Witwatersrand (Wits) and the author of What is ­Slavery to Me? published by

Wits University Press.

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