Deathly effects of no toilets

She plunges her hands in and out of the drum and in one smooth movement removes a dripping item of clothing, wrings the water out and gives it a shake before gingerly making her way across her tiny yard where she stretches skyward to peg it to the washing line.

She repeats this  a number of times, every time stepping on strategically placed rocks and a makeshift wooden bridge to reach the washing line. She stands on her tippy toes her fulsome frame in a brown shwe-shwe skirt and orange polo neck.   Amid the fluttering, colourful washing drying in the south-easter, she cuts an attractive picture against the stark black and white of her shack and Table Mountain in the background.

However, the picture is far from pretty. Nozakhe Thethafuthi has good reason for not walking along the path to the washing line ‘€“ her shack and yard is regularly flooded with raw sewage from a nearby pipe which blocks and then floods its contents into her surroundings.

Thethafuthi claims that sewerage first started flowing out from two manholes around her home in the winter of 2006. She has been forced to build a moat around her house in an attempt to relay the sewage to the swamp behind her shack. The effluent in the swamp is channeled to the ocean.

The stench is sickening, her living conditions inhumane. Thethafuthi nods her head when asked if the stinking sewage flows into the shack. ‘€œYes, it often happens right throughout the year,’€ she says, pushing the black beanie away from her forehead.

‘€œMy daughter is at the clinic right now with one of my grandchildren because he has diarrhoea. The babies have had diarrhoea episodes every week since their birth (a year ago),’€ says Thethafuthi.

She settled in RR Section, a cramped informal settlement adjacent to Lansdowne Road in Khayelitsha outside Cape Town in 2004. ‘€œI came from the Eastern Cape looking for work, I have nowhere else to go,’€ she shrugs.

Who cleans the sewage when it spills into her year, at times a daily occurrence? ‘€œI must clean it myself and it makes me very stressed. My kids are sick all the time and it stinks, but we have no other place to go,’€ says Thethafuthi.

The family is one of only a handful that has  access to a flush toilet a couple of steps away, but they share it with at least five other households.

Makhosandile ‘€œScarre’€ Qezo lives in another part of RR section ,notoriously blighted by inadequate sanitation facilities. Despite his shack being relatively close to flush toilets, he does not have access to the ones that are working ‘€“ they have been locked by those who were lucky enough to receive a key to the padlock. Those toilets that are not locked are beyond description ‘€“ overflowing with sewage and other waste that runs on to the concrete floor.

Scarre was viciously attacked when he crossed Lansdowne to relieve himself during the early hours of May 1. The open veld adjacent to the N2 highway is used daily by hundreds of desperate community members as a toilet.

‘€œI found a bush and was busy when two men approached me. A third one was keeping watch further away. I tried to stand and pull my trousers up when the one screamed at me asking for my phone.

‘€œHe swore at me and didn’€™t give me a moment to reply, but stabbed me in the face. I tried to grab him, but grabbed the knife instead and cut my hand. He then threw sand in my face. Other people saw what was happening and came closer to help me, so they ran way with my cellphone,’€ recalls a traumatized Scarre. He continues to return to the same spot everyday to relieve himself.

In another incident, a teenager was run over and critically injured. A year ago Zanele (she does not want to give her surname), who was born in RR Section, also crossed Lansdowne Road to relieve herself. It was the middle of winter and by 6.30pm it was already dark. As she tried to make her way across the busy double-lane road she was knocked over by a car.

‘€œI did not see the car because I was in a rush to use the toilet,’€ she recalls. Zanele sustained several fractures and was in hospital for several weeks where she underwent surgery.

‘€œI feel better now, but my waist hurts when it is cold and I cannot walk properly,’€ she says.

Zanele still doesn’€™t have access to a toilet in her neighbourhood, but after the accident a shop owner, a five minute walk away allows her to use the toilet. ‘€œI take my mom with if I have to walk there as I am scared,’€ she says.

The impact of the accident has been significant on the teenager’€™s life, leaving her depressed and absent from school for prolonged periods.

Gavin Silber, Coordinator of the Social Justice Coalition, said everyone in Khayelitsha’€™s informal settlements has either been adversely affected personally, or someone close to them who has, in the process of conducting the simple task of trying to relieve him or herself.

‘€œIt is pervasive, but considered part of everyday life.   Residents are forced to relive their traumas ‘€“ be it assault, violent robbery, or rape ‘€“ multiple times each day,’€ he said.

Silber said the SJC and the community were committed to working with the City to improve this fundamental service, which would have a direct impact on contributing to one’€™s rights to health, safety, and dignity.

‘€œHowever, the City must first acknowledge the problem exists.   Their failure to do so to date is an affront to the hundreds of thousands of Capetonians in informal settlements who live with this considerable burden, and is not conducive to fostering cooperation and discourse,’€ Silber said.

The City of Cape Town declined to comment. A list of questions (see elsewhere) sent to the Mayor Dan Plato last week were not answered at the time of going to press. His office said they were busy with the World Cup.


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