Social Justice Coalition fights for decent toilets in Cape informal settlements

SIX years after the Makhaza “loo with a view” saga, which saw the DA-led city of Cape Town being widely condemned for providing unenclosed toilets, sanitation remains a stinky issue in the city.

The Social Justice Coalition lobby group is now accusing the city of Cape Town of unfairly discriminating against residents of informal settlements by not taking reasonable steps to provide permanent sanitation facilities in those areas.

With the local government elections around the corner, the provision of basic services, such as water and sanitation will be under the spotlight.

Access to sanitation is a highly emotive issue which touches on basic socioeconomic rights, the dignity of individuals, and is easily politicised.

Earlier in July, the Khayelitsha-based lobby group launched a case against the city over sanitation provision in informal settlements.

The group wants the Cape Town High Court to compel the city to provide a report within a year, stating what steps it intends taking towards eradicating the use of chemical, container and portable flush toilets.

“The city provides inferior sanitation services to residents of informal settlements, who are overwhelmingly black persons, compared with other racial groups,” the lobby group says in court papers.

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It also says it rejects the forms of sanitation provided in informal settlements, including the portable toilets as these strip residents of their dignity.

“There has been a continued denial of access to adequate sanitation to residents of informal settlements. This amounts to unfair discrimination and is in violation of the Constitution and the rights to safety, health, dignity and privacy. It is also in violation of the Equality Act, specifically on the grounds of race, socioeconomic status, and geographic location,” the group says.

It also argues venturing out to use a toilet in informal settlements is dangerous. Men, women and children are frequently robbed, assaulted, raped and murdered on their way to a toilet, in the bushes or at empty clearings; often far from their homes.

“Risks are not limited to crime. Many toilets are poorly monitored, inadequately maintained and often become unhygienic. This results is many people becoming sick and contracting diseases, particularly children.”

According to Statistics SA’s household survey released in May, 80% of households in SA now have access to toilets of a minimum standard — a ventilated pit latrine — up from 62.3% 13 years ago.

The proportion of households with no toilet or a bucket toilet has dropped from 12.3% in 2002, to 4.9% in 2015. Stats SA reported that 1,06m households (91.8%) in Cape Town have access to at least basic sanitation. The figures showed that 67,000 households (5.8%) have a bucket toilet or no sanitation.

Cape Town deputy mayor Ian Neilson has questioned the veracity of the household survey, saying the primary problem seems to lie with Stats SA’s definition of access to sanitation, which it defines as “flush toilet connected to a public sewerage system or septic tank or a pit latrine with ventilation pipe”.

“This definition excludes significant other toilet technologies, such as chemical toilets, portable flush toilets and container toilets, which are widely recognised as adequate technologies for basic sanitation provision.”

Neilson said all of the alternatives the city provides in informal settlements meet the legal definition and the national standard.

“This includes chemical toilets, portable flush toilets and container toilets. Chemical and container toilets are not only cleaned three times a week but also receive daily janitorial servicing in Cape Town,” Neilson said at the time.

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