The war of the toilets

The ANC and DA are caught up in a struggle to prove which is the country’s worst toilet builder and violator of citizens’ right to ­dignity.

The South African Human Rights Commision (SAHRC) has been drawn into this ugly spat ­after DA executive director Gareth van Onselen laid a complaint against the ANC-run Moqhaka municipality in Free State.

The commission had declined to launch a countrywide investigation into sanitation services, as requested by DA leader Helen Zille in a letter to SAHRC chair Lawrence Mushwana in June.

The commission argued that a probe on such a scale would be beyond the commission’s capacity.

The SAHRC’s June ruling that the DA had violated the right to dignity of residents of Makhaza informal settlement in Cape Town by failing to provide 51 households with enclosed toilets set the ball rolling.

Shortly after it made its findings public, Zille wrote to the commission requesting a nationwide probe into sanitation services, a move interpreted as an ­attempt to paint the ANC with the same brush.

The SAHRC said in its report that the City of Cape Town ought to have ensured that the rights of all citizens were protected, ­promoted and fulfilled.

It recommended that the city reinstall the 51 toilets at the centre of the saga and enclose them with immediate effect.

The commission also recommended that the national human settlements department in conjunction with the water affairs ­department should intervene more actively in all provinces, to ensure that its stated policy of ensuring the eradication of the bucket system is achieved more expeditiously throughout the country.

However, the matter seems to be detoriating into a political point scoring game, with Zille attempting to draw President Jacob Zuma into the matter by mentioning his home village of Nkandla in her letter to Mushwana.

“The fact of the matter is that – according to government’s own statistics – 25% of people in South Africa have no access to basic sanitation (defined as a ventilated pit latrine) at all,” Zille said.

“According to national government statistics, 89% of residents of Nkandla local municipality for example, have no access to basic sanitation.

The 55 families in ­Makhaza, by contrast, do currently have access to a flush toilet which is enclosed in concrete. In parts of the country where there is sanitation, it is often in a dilapidated state and is unfit for human use,” she wrote in the letter.

SAHRC spokesperson Vincent Moaga this week said “there is currently no discussion of a national investigation into sanitation services”.

However he confirmed that the commision was investigating the Moqhaka municipality in Free State following the DA’s complaint.

Van Onselen said in his letter to the commission, dated September 21, that there are many examples of open toilets in the informal settlement of Rammulotsi.

“In this local council there are many examples of open toilets, where residents do not have adequate access to enclosed alternative sanitation.

Indeed, several of the open toilets are within sight of the mayor’s home, and one is right next door,” Van Onselen wrote.

“It is our belief that the recommendations that the commision made in your finding against the City of Cape Town may be directly applicable to the Moqhaka council as well, and we therefore ask you to investigate whether that council’s standards for the provision of basic sanitation, with specific reference to the open toilets found there, meet with the standards implied by your finding in the City of Cape Town matter.”


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