Archbishop enters toilet fray

2010-06-09 15:55

Cape Town – Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Magkoba  has offered to chair a meeting between parties involved in the "potentially explosive" Makhaza toilet debacle.

"I would be most happy to chair this meeting, should I be invited to do so," he said in a letter addressed to Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato, Premier Helen Zille, Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka and Department of Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica.

Makgoba is due to return to South Africa from London in the next few days.

"I write to voice my concern at a potentially explosive situation at Makhaza which seems to suggest that God's people are desperate for your compassionate and decisive leadership before their grievance turn(s) into more turmoil for larger society," he said.

Makgoba said although he understood that the situation was "complex and blame should not be attributed to one particular party", he had been saddened by both the demolition of the city-provided toilet enclosures by the community and the removal of the toilets by the city, scenes which he said were "reminiscent of the dark days in our history".

The archbishop called for Plato to commit to recommendations made by the South African Human Rights Commission which ruled on Friday that the toilets be re-installed and enclosed with concrete structures.

He also called on the mayor to acknowledge that there were "serious flaws" in the agreement signed in 2007 by the city and Makhaza residents.

"This is crucial in regaining credibility to effectively negotiate a settlement with the residents of Makhaza," he said.

According to the city, the agreement was that the city would provide each household with a toilet for which they would have to build an enclosure themselves instead of the city building fewer, but enclosed toilets that would have to be shared between five households.


On Tuesday mayoral spokesperson Rulleska Singh said the city would only replace the toilets once the community replaced zinc structures demolished in protest over two weeks ago. The community, led by leaders of ANC Youth League in the area, said they wanted concrete structures instead of zinc.

Gavin Silber of the Social Justice Coalition, which met with Makgoba over the matter, said they decided to bring in the archbishop not only because of mutual concerns but also because of his status as a respected member of the community.

The NGO deals with sanitation issues in informal settlements around the country.

"The issue has become so politicised. We hoped that there would be a better chance of resolving it with someone like him on board. Someone who is respected, non-partisan and is experienced in mediation," said Silber.

He said he hoped Plato would use the opportunity to "come to a resolution and open dialogue on how to improve sanitation in the metro and set an example for the rest of the country".

Silber said the letter had been sent to the concerned government departments and the office of the mayor late on Tuesday.

According to statistics, at least 10.5 million people in South Africa do not have access to basic sanitation.