Tag Archives: South Africa

South Africa: Harvesting Nutrients That Are Flushed Away

Durban — It might seem unusual for a waste utility to be concerned with the goal of ending world hunger, but that’s part of the mission of the Water and Sanitation department in South Africa’s second largest city of Durban. AllAfrica’s Julie Frederikse spoke with Neil MacLeod, who heads this department for the municipality known by its Zulu name, eThekwini.

“Intensive agriculture requires fertilizers, whose main component is phosphorus, yet where does our phosphorus go after it goes into crops and is digested?” said eThekwini Municipality Water and Sanitation director Neil MacLeod. “Into a toilet. And then it goes into a treatment works, then into a river, and it gets washed into the sea.”

With an estimated 30 percent of household water used to flush Durban’s toilets – water which the city has paid to pump and purify – MacLeod sees flushing toilets as unsustainable technology. Like much of Africa, South Africa is water-scarce, with water restrictions expected soon for this city of 3.7 million, whose population is swelling by some 150,000 people per year.

MacLeod sees salvation in an alternative toilet that uses no water at all. Called the Urine Diverting (UD) toilet, it separates urine from faeces so that nutrients can be recovered and returned to the earth. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus – aka NPK 5:3:1 – is an excellent fertilizer for growing vegetables.

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South Africa: landmark ruling on right to sanitation ends Cape Town “toilet wars”

With a high court ruling supporting South Africa’s constitutional right to sanitation, Cape Town’s “brutal – and farcical – toilet wars” have come to an end. Protesters from the Makhaza neighbourhood of the black township Khayelitsha, that was at the centre of the dispute, greeted the court decision with cheers.

Activists queue outside the Cape Town mayor Dan Plato's office on Freedom Day, 27 April 2011 to demand better access to basic sanitation in Khayelitsha and other informal settlements. Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht / Sapa

On 29 April 2011, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the city government must build enclosures around government-provided toilets in Makhaza, ending a two-year dispute that had become a heated political issue between the country’s two largest political parties.

It might seem like a small matter, but with local elections planned for May 18 [2011] across the country, the court decision is likely to become a matter of national political discussion, if not significance. Cape Town is run by South Africa’s second-largest political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), an opponent of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)

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South Africa: in Durban it pays to pee

A new initiative in South Africa is testing practical, community-scale ways to use urine as a fertiliser. The initiative is part of new project funded by the Gates Foundation.

Urine-diverting dry toilet in Umlazi, near Durban. Photo: Eawag

After installing about 90 000 urine-diversion toilets in home gardens, the port city of Durban now wants to install 20-litre (quart) containers on 500 of the toilets to capture urine, which can be turned into fertiliser.

Although a news item about the initiative claimed that the municipality would be paying households about around R30 (US$ 4.40) for a week’s supply of urine, the project coordinator Bastian Etter from Eawag, says that this is “an invention of a journalist of Agence France Presse (AFP) and not the strategy of the eThekwini Municipality”. “Neither the eThekwini Municipality nor our research team has set up a compensation scheme for collected urine”, Mr. Etter said in an e-mail.

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South Africa – Review of sanitation policy and practice


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Report to the Water Research Commission, 2010

A study conducted by DWAF (2005) to audit the sustainability of the sanitation projects implemented from 1994-2003 found that a significant number of these projects were not sustainable. This problem of poor sustainability could be due to a lack of common understanding and interpretation of the national sanitation policy by municipalities and other implementing agents.

The Water Research Commission initiated this study to examine the understanding and interpretation of the national sanitation policy and programme by municipalities and to identify aspects of the policy that were poorly understood and/or misinterpreted and to make recommendations for bridging the gap between policy and practice.

South Africa, Cape Town: escaped hippo shipped out of sewerage works

A young hippo has been shipped out of a Cape Town sewerage works, where he made his home after fleeing a nature reserve where he had clashed with his father.

The four-year-old nicknamed “Zorro” fled the Rondevlei Nature Reserve outside Cape Town in February 2009 for the lush grass and abundant water of the Cape Flats Waste Water Treatment Works (CFWWTW). He got his nickname due to the zigzag scar on his back, caused by his father’s tusks during fighting.

The Waste Water Treatment Works adjacent to Zeekoevlei and Rondevlei is part of the False Bay Coastal Park, a core area in the City’s Biodiversity Network. The hippos at Rondevlei are a keystone species in Rondevlei, one of the City’s 24 nature reserves.

Thieves had made off with part of the reserve’s fence, creating an opening for 1 200-kilo Zorro to escape.

Reserve staff put up an electric fence around 22 hectares to contain him around a water pan and baited a capture “boma” enclosure, said Dalton Gibbs of the city’s nature conservation department.

Once Zorro had entered the capture boma, staff loaded him into a crate and moved him to his new home, a private reserve in nearby Worcester.

“The natural cycle is the dominant male will chase out younger males out of the herd,” Gibbs said about the hippo’s escape. “It’s a fairly normal process.”

Zorro is not first hippo to have escaped from the Rondevlei Nature Reserve. In 2004 there was another escape artist, who was nicknamed … Houdini.

Zorro the hippo at the pans in Strandfontein. Photo: Shelley Christians

Source: Sapa-AFP, Cape Argus, 06 Jul 2010 ; City of Cape Town, 19 Feb 2009

How a new toilet programme sets off in Moretele Local Municpality

Jan Habig is an independent civil engineer in South Africa. He is showing a group of civil society people from Southern African countries around in a new sanitation programme involving 1,000 toilets in Moretele Local Municpality in North West Province, a 90-minute drive out of Pretoria.

Mr. Habig is here as project manager for G.R. Makopo CC Construction that won a contract for the Cyferskuils Basic Sanitation Phase 2 project, involving 1,000 Amalooloo toilets. The company falls under the Upcoming Black Economic Empowerment companies programme to increase income from 250,000 Rand to the next level.

Mr. Habig advises the company on tender documents and cash flow programmes and checks the quality of work. He also has international health and safety accreditation. In an interview on the site with IRC’.s Dick de Jong he explained how decentralization of this sanitation programme works.

How is this programme funded?

“This programme is funded from the central Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) that comes through local municipalities. This comes with conditions. One third of the construction of the toilets has to be given to local contractors. It is part of a bigger programme of 4,000 new toilets in this area.”

How does this work out here?

“There are three local contractors involved with 10 teams of two women and four men each. They are paid 130 Rand [13 Euro] each per structure. On average a team does 2 ½ structure per day. There is 88,000 Rand in the budget for training of which 30,000 was used to train 20 local people for five days in brick laying. Other trainings that are still to come:

  • orientation training for 10 Community Liaison Officers;
  • orientation course for a Project Steering Committee that has been appointed, but is not yet operational;
  • a basic street-by-street short hygiene course for households that includes explanations how to operate and maintain the toilets, including not throwing rubbish in the toilet, not using newspapers and showing how the raking of the feces goes when the pit is full.”

Not as dry as claimed

“The Amalooloo toilets we heard about and saw at the Betram company and at the new project site in the field are not as dry as claimed by the company. In the field we also saw that the construction of the upper part of toilet was not water tight and missed grips for the disabled. As we are also getting these toilets in Zambia I hope that you keep us informed about these problems on the ground”, Mr. Elisha N’gonomo, Director of a large civil society organization Village Water in Zambia, asked the South African participants on the last day of their Civil Society Learning Journey and Capacity Building Workshop in Roodeplaat, Pretoria, South Africa.

See the full story and pictures.

World Cup – unaffordable extravagance – proper sewerage vs state-of-the-art stadiums

South African columnist Greta Steyn believes that the money spent on building stadiums for the 2010 Fifa World Cup could have been better spent on sanitation. She points to the open toilets in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, and the dismal state of the country’s sewerage systems.

Open toilets

The real meaning of the World Cup was made clear to me when Cape Town mayor Dan Plato said on e-TV news that he was removing the open toilets because he didn’t want this kind of footage to be beamed across the world. The whole issue is an example of the rainbow nation dream which underpins the World Cup crashing down. Amazingly, the toilets were removed.

Plato, who is from the Democratic Alliance (DA), decided to remove them after ANC Youth League (ANCYL) members led the charge in tearing down the tin shelters erected around the open toilets in recent days. The ANCYL is demanding that concrete shelters be built.

Plato’s only worry seems to be for the BBC and CNN not to film the open toilets, but the dispute might well make international news.

Apparently, this hasn’t happened on a wide scale – besides the Christian Science Monitor, few western media have reported on South Africa’s “toilet wars”.

Toilet Wars headline in South African newspaper Cape Argus

The point is that we are trying to portray a country that doesn’t exist. The fact is that those open toilets have been in Khayelitsha for months, and that the tin shelters were a recent development – probably prompted by the looming soccer spectacular.

The ANCYL is obviously wrong in breaking the tin shelters down. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that there were open toilets in the first place.

I don’t know how much the Cape Town municipality spent on the World Cup. Grant Thornton says cities and provinces spent a total of R9bn. But if the city of Cape Town can afford a world class stadium, surely it can afford closed-off toilets? Which would you rather have, if you were a resident of Makhaza in Khayelitsha?

Proper sewerage vs state-of-the-art stadiums

I mention this as one example of the extreme poverty in this country that exists just kilometres away from these wonderful stadiums. In the February Budget, it was disclosed that government had spent about R33bn in preparation for the tournament. This doesn’t include spending such as the Gautrain and the freeway improvement projects, which aren’t directly related to the World Cup.

The DA recently leaked the government’s Green Drop report on the country’s sewerage infrastructure, which government had hoped to keep quiet. The findings were scary, with the report finding that 55% of municipalities’ sewerage facilities were “inadequate”.

The leaking of the Green Drop report in April 2010 greatly irritated Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica. She said the report had been delayed while the department had consulted with affected stakeholders, including municipalities, rather than, as the DA claimed, because its contents were not pleasing. “Our intention as regulator of the water sector is to put things right by supporting where we can, hence the reason for extensive consultations,” Sonjica said.

Only 7% were rated as excellent. Even worse, the actual level of non-compliance is likely to be higher, as only 53% of the country’s 852 treatment plants were assessed in the Green Drop report. Many simply didn’t reply. The backlog in sewerage infrastructure is R23bn – which could have been covered by the money spent on building beautiful stadiums.

You may wonder why I’m spending so much time talking about toilets. The point is, SA hasn’t even got the basics right and yet thinks it’s great to spend massive amounts of money on a soccer spectacular. There’s also the R75bn backlog in roads and R27bn backlog in electricity distribution infrastructure.

One point that should spoil the euphoria about the World Cup is the fact that foreign journalists aren’t stupid – they’ll find the poverty and portray it to the world. No matter that beggars have apparently been removed from Durban’s streets (and put where, I wonder?). The British Financial Times this week ran a story based on Durban with the headline: Poor cry foul over World Cup in Durban.

The SA that Cup supporters want to portray exists only in dreams and television commercials. Booking our place in history indeed – but not in the way that you think.

Source: Greta Steyn, fin24.com, 09 Jun 2010