RR Section: Almost no toilets

Lack of open space means that children from the 3 000 households congregate around the only real open spaces which are near the 58 communal taps and 129 flush toilets clustered on the outskirts – many of which are not functional. Preliminary laboratory tests show that the water that gathers under the taps is highly contaminated with ecoli and other contaminants.

Overflowing sewage from blocked and broken pipes, and leaking and overflowing toilets means that the often barefooted and unsupervised children play among the raw effluent which streams down the paths.

A senior health official who asked to remain anonymous confirmed that Khayelitsha had ‘€œa huge problem with diarrhoea’€.

He added that Site B Clinic, where most of the RR Section residents would end up, had extremely high incidences of diarrhoea and death rates.

The City and Province have on numerous occasions placed the burden of blame on ‘€œvandalism’€, but it is clear that it is very often other factors are to blame. ‘€œI know many will say that people vandalise the toilets, but we cannot get away from the fact that there are simply not enough toilets and that many, many people do not have access to the toilets,’€ he said.

‘€œTell 12 Rondebosch households to share one toilet and see if it copes.’€

Figures from the City reveal that between July and September last year the death rate due to diarrhoea (in children under 5 years) was by far the highest in Khayelitsha ‘€“ 111 per 100 000 population.

Sanitation has become a major focus area for the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) ‘€“ an activist movement which was formed two years ago in response to xenophobic attacks.   During this time the SJC provided material relief and legal support to the victims of the attacks.

SJC members established that one of root causes of attacks was lack of safety in poor informal settlements.

‘€œThe deficit in safety in informal settlements ‘€“ exacerbated by the general vacuum of functioning and visible local government – contributes to frustration and anger which can in turn lead to vigilantism, which ultimately targeted the most vulnerable,’€ said SJC Coordinator Gavin Silber.   The lack of safety was further illustrated in the failure of the State to protect foreigners after the attacks began.

Late last year the  SJC  consulted with RR Section community members about the primary challenges to safety.   The number one concern was access to toilets and in January the ‘€œClean & Safe Toilets Campaign’€ was adopted at its AGM as a primary campaign.

Shaun Reznik researcher and engineer at the SJC  confirmed that RR Section currently had 100 chemical toilets (similar to those find on building sites), 129 full flush toilets, 144 Bi-pot chemical toilets and one communal ablution block (which is currently locked).

‘€œWe are not sure how many of the flush toilets are actually functional, but those that work are accessed by only a small group of people who share a key. The chemical toilets are also often locked while the Bi-pots are inside people’€™s shacks,’€ he explained.

Reznik explained that the water table levels in RR Section were high which meant that sewage had to be collected above the ground. Failure to do so meant that every time there were floods, which is a frequent occurrence, sewage flooded onto the roads.

Reznik said it was difficult for communities to report blocked flush toilets as most of the toilets were not numbered and the contact telephone number was not widely known.

‘€œThere are supposed to be Environmental Health Officers monitoring the toilets, but we do not think this is happening,’€ he said.

Silber said that at present RR Section had approximately 12households to each toilet.   This however fails to take into account broken, dirty and dysfunctional toilets, of which there are very many.

The SJC has met with Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato where he described the SJC’€™s motives as dubious and their information as flawed. He also told activists to demonstrate elsewhere in South Africa. Minutes of the meeting also reveal that Plato also said people ‘€œsquat there they shouldn’€™t squat’€ and in doing so ‘€œaggravate their own situation’€.   The SJC have however been working relatively well with Water and Sanitation personnel in RR Section, to fix long existing problems and identify shortcomings in existing policy and practice..

Efforts to get Plato to comment failed.

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