Tag Archives: toilet wars

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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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