Why Joburg councillors voted against eradicating 'unsanitary and unsafe' toilets

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The City of Johannesburg uses 'VIP toilets' and chemical toilets to provide sanitation to poor communities.
The City of Johannesburg uses 'VIP toilets' and chemical toilets to provide sanitation to poor communities.
Teboho Setena
  • Joburg councillors voted against a motion to eradicate bucket toilets in the city.
  • The governing party said this was because there were no bucket toilets.
  • Instead, they said they provided "VIP" and chemical toilets to communities without sanitation.

There are no bucket toilets in Johannesburg.

This was the reason given when the governing party voted against a motion for a bucket toilet eradication plan at last week's ordinary sitting of the council.

Councillor Vhengani Munyai proposed the motion on Thursday. 

He said it was "disheartening and inhumane" that after 29 years of democracy, "residents in the formalised informal settlements within Johannesburg are still subjected to using the bucket toilet system, with no water for residents to wash their hands in observance of good hygiene principles, while other community members are subjected to having to use the wild to relieve themselves".

The proposal was twofold. To develop a city-wide bucket toilet eradication plan within 60 days, with the main objective of eradicating all bucket toilets within formalised informal settlements.

READ | DA to launch court action to force basic education dept to eradicate 'deadly' pit toilets in SA

Another proposal was to review the unsustainable bucket toilet servicing system and redirect the budget toward the installation of flushing toilets where possible.

"In this 2022-'23 financial year, the contracted service providers will be costing the City of Johannesburg more than R90 million just to service more than 11 000 chemical toilet buckets across the city."

Dada Morero, Johannesburg ANC chair and former mayor, said it was semantics and not the plight of the people which led to the vote against the motion:

The motion was voted against because it referred to a bucket system when we don't have [one] in Joburg. We have VIP toilets; therefore, the motion was not addressing the issue.

"We are of the view that we should relook the whole sanitation programmes in informal settlements and find a better solution to get people into more decent toilets."

City of Johannesburg spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane reiterated Morero's comment.

"The City of Johannesburg does [not] have a bucket toilet system in place. Johannesburg Water does, however, provide chemical toilets to informal settlements that haven't been covered yet by basic sanitation services, which consist of VIP toilets or communal ablution facilities."

According to him, informal settlements not covered by basic services are settlements which are:

  • temporary and awaiting formalisation
  • settlements developed below the flood line and that need to be moved, and
  • illegal occupations on private property

He said the eradication of chemical toilets was dependent on the formalisation of these informal settlements.

"However, the good news is that in the council meeting, the Government of Local Unity (GLU) brought a report, which was adopted on the formalisation of informal settlements, and once they are formalised, the City will be able to provide a proper in-house toilet system and get rid of communal and VIP chemical toilets."

Chemical toilets do not flush but have a holding tank filled with chemicals which minimise odour. The tanks need to be emptied regularly.

The GLU includes the ANC, EFF, PA and smaller parties, including Johannesburg Mayor Thapelo Amad's Al Jama-ah and Speaker Colleen Makhubele's Cope.

The proposal was put forward by ActionSA and supported by the DA-led coalition, which includes the ACDP, Freedom Front Plus, IFP, other minority parties and independents.

ActionSA Joburg caucus spokesperson Sthembelo Majola said the motion came after a visit to Kliptown, where the party was shown around the City-provided toilets. 

Majola said not only Kliptown was struggling with the issue. He said it didn't matter whether they were bucket toilets or not, but the situation was undignified, unsafe and unsanitary.

"They are not regularly serviced. Some are used by 10 families, of which there are many members of the family. The City is not taking care of these people."

He said some women felt unsafe when using the toilets at night because of the number of men using the site. He added that many communities also did not have water to clean their hands afterward.

Other than the wording, Majola believed the motion also did not pass because the EFF put through a similar proposal.

EFF members have often spoken in council about the sorry state of sanitation in poor communities around the city.

According to Majola, when the programming committee met last Monday ahead of the council sitting on Wednesday and Thursday, the EFF brought a similar motion proposal, which was denied.

"It was rejected by the programming committee because of the words that were used."

He said if the motion was tabled, it would show that the GLU knew about Johannesburg's toilet problem.

He added that he would vote in favour of the motion if the EFF brought it to the council because it was a matter of service delivery, not politics.

News24 reached out to the EFF, and its comment will be added once received.

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